Interview by Andy Diggle for Fusion

Alan Grant is one of the comics industry's most respected writers. An amiable but forthright Scot with a wicked sense of humour, he first rose to prominence writing Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog for British weekly 2000AD with his friend John Wagner. He is probably best known in the USA for his work on Batman: Shadow of the Bat and Lobo.

I tracked his down to his home in Essex - a stunningly beautiful 14th century converted church, complete with stained-glass windows and a sensory-deprivation tank in the sanctuary (I kid you not) - and started off by asking him how his career in comics began...

ALAN GRANT: I answered an ad in the papers for "trainee journalists". DC Thompson was a very patriarchal company to work for. They expected you to work there for life, and in return they would really look after you. John Wagner, Pat Mills and I all benefited from the fact that they gave you a thorough training in all aspects of editorial work. You got constantly shifted around from department to department; you were encouraged to learn other people's jobs rather than just doing the one.

My very first job in journalism - I was 18 years old - was working for DC Thompson in what they called their General Fiction Department, and the first week that I worked there, I was given the horoscope column to write for the Dundee Daily Courier. So I was Madam Gypsy Rose Lee or whatever it was... And I guess it's quite a good way to learn, because it requires a certain creativity to avoid repeating yourself. And I know that Wagner and several other of my friends who went through the Thompson set-up - we all ended up doing the same thing. You start slipping little messages in like, "Pisces: a close relative is in danger" or "Taurus: it may be unwise to leave the house today..." (laughter)

Another of my early jobs was, I was given a 75,000 word paperback novel which they had for serialisation in their afternoon newspaper, but it was serialised in like ten chunks of 750 words - so my job was to cut 75,000 word novel down to 7,500 words. And it was great, I loved doing it! I would say to everybody who wants to be a writer - they should start doing that. Take a book, a thick book, any Stephen King book is always a good start, and go through it and cut it by fifty per cent. Then read it again, and see if it still makes sense as a story.

Okay, the early days of 2000AD - what was it like behind the scenes?

Well, not only was I behind the scenes, I was behind the scenes approximately 500 miles from where it was happening, because I was living in Scotland at the time, and I didn't have anything to do with 2000AD other than the fact that I was a friend of John Wagner and Pat Mills. At that time I was a collector of American comics, and had been for about the previous ten years. Since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby started the Golden Age of Marvel, I had been a Marvel Comics fan, and I had quite a large collection. So John and Pat visited me with a view to looking through all the American comics to see if there was anything that they could 'Briticise' for 2000AD. And it was quite funny because they went though - I'm not saying they read them all, but they certainly flicked through many many hundreds of American comics, and at the end of the day they said that there's nothing there that they could use in 2000AD! (laughter) I think the thing that actually came closest to being any kind of consideration for a 2000AD-type story was 'Deathlok The Demolisher', which was actually very intelligently done when it first came out.

When I was kid, I grew up on a mixture of British and American comics. But, when I was eleven years old - 1960 I think it was - Marvel launched The Fantastic Four, The Sub-Mariner, The Avengers, The X-Men and everything, and I gave up all other comics and became a Marvel comic reader. I didn't look at a British comic again until 2000AD actually came out, so I never saw any copies of Action until afterwards.

John and Pat were working in comics, because when they left DC Thompson, they went down to London and started working on the humour division at Fleetway or IPC, whereas I had ended up somehow at DC Thompson at Romantic Fiction. When I went down to London, I ended up working for magazines like Honey and Loving and Love Affair and Mirabelle and Valentine and God knows what else. It was all teenage fiction stuff. So when I eventually left IPC to go freelance, it wasn't comics I was thinking of writing at all. I had been taught - or had taught myself - how to write women's fiction, and I became a women's fiction writer, I guess. I wrote stuff like 'I Stole To Have An Abortion', 'My Boyfriend Was A Hell's Angel', 'I Threw My Baby Off The London Train'... These were all first person true-confession type stories.

My first ever comics story was printed round about then, I think it was in a magazine called Mirabelle. It was a romantic story, although even then there was something odd and unsettling about it. It wasn't funny, but it was like a traditional romance story with a touch of horror, so people get stabbed and stuff like that. It wasn't a normal story - which was I guess why they bought it.

The British 'Action' comic was withdrawn for being too violent, even though they'd hit on a hugely popular formula. Was there a sense or carry-through from Action to 2000AD - like, 'This time it's got to be science fiction'?

Well definitely, but I think the 'It's got to be science fiction' came from Kelvin Gosnell, who worked quite closely with Pat. Kevin O'Neill was also very involved in the creation of 2000AD, or he came along very soon afterwards. He was already working for something like Buster as what they would call an 'art bodger'. If the artist had tried to slip something through, like in the background drawing a pair of breasts on a statue, it was the bodger's job to go through it and white out things like that, or if the artist had signed the work, it was the bodger's job to go through looking for signatures and white them out. So Kevin was doing that kind of thing on Buster when 2000AD was started, and he soon gravitated on to become Art Assistant. So really it was Pat Mills, Kelvin Gosnell and Kevin O'Neill, although I believe it was Pat's brain-child and he was the carry-through between Action and 2000AD. Because, having been the editor of Action, he saw what the right type of story could do.

Now, almost all if not all of the stories in Action, as I recall, were based on things which were culturally popular at the time, but which weren't necessarily available to kids of Action-reader age. So, the story Hookjaw, for instance, was their version of Jaws, and of course it was actually much more violent than the movie Jaws. But the kids weren't allowed to see Jaws because it had an X or an A certificate, I dunno how they work these things. Dredger was a tough cop in the manner of Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry movies, for instance, which again were forbidden to kids. So Pat realised there was this tie-up between things that were forbidden to kids and what was going on in popular culture, and when they switched to 2000AD, I think it was Kelvin who pointed out that the Star Wars movies were being made at that time, and that they were expected to be huge, and that they should go down the path of science fiction.

It's remarkable that 2000AD has lasted almost 20 years, you know, particularly with the amount of bitterness they've caused between themselves and nearly everybody who's ever worked for them...

You've done a lot of writing in partnership with John Wagner. How did that begin?

I got a job working editorially on 2000AD when Steve McManus was the editor, and John was writing Dredd and Strontium Dog and Robo-Hunter at the time. I was sharing a house with him, so he was using me as a sounding board for his ideas for the story. When I left Fleetway, I didn't actually leave to go freelance. I was offered another job with a guy who published puzzle magazines, and it wasn't a great job but the money was 50% more than Fleetway were paying me. So I left, turned up on the Monday morning at the offices to start this job, and there was a guy I didn't recognise there, and I said "Hi, I'm Alan, I'm looking for Stewart, I'm starting work here today." And he said, "You're not starting work here today. This is my studio." And the guy had sold out the week before, but without bothering to tell me! (laughter)

That was how I ended up as a freelance writer. I had never intended to be a freelance writer, but I had just arrived to start my job and there's no job. I didn't have any choice. And as fortune - or ill-fortune - would have it, at the time John Wagner was suffering from some kind of illness, and he wasn't able to maintain his obligations to write for 2000AD, so he asked if I could help him out. We were sharing a house, so we were sitting around at night talking about the stories anyway. It made sense to formalise it and that was it, we started writing together. We had been friends for, I dunno, a decade before that, so we knew each other quite well, and I have to say that although I've tried writing with several other partners, since John and I ceased writing together on a regular basis, it's never worked out as well.

Is there a significant difference in the work you produce with him and the work you do on your own?

Humour material is always better when there are two of you working on it. That's why so many famous TV shows and funny movies were written by two people, because you've got constant feedback. You always know if something's funny or not because you get an instant reaction. Whereas if you're working on something of a serious nature or something that means something to you or has a message that you personally want to say, if another person is involved in the writing of that, then the whole work becomes a matter of compromise, and you end up saying what neither of you wanted to say.

I think John and I can pinpoint the exact moment our partnership... it didn't fail, we stopped before it failed, but it started to falter. We were writing The Last American for Epic, with Mike McMahon as the artist, and we spent a whole day working on something, and at the end of the day we had actually written two pages less than we had when we started, because we had argued so much that we'd just scrapped it. You can't work on that basis.

At the same time we were writing the end of the Chopper in Oz story, and we had - very unusually for us, because John and I don't usually disagree - but we had a vehement argument about what should happen at the end of Chopper. John wanted Chopper to win the race, and escape from Dredd. I wanted Chopper to win the race and for Dredd not only to shoot him dead but to shoot him in the back. And John's agenda was, he wanted Chopper brought up as a hero, whereas my agenda was that I wanted Dredd painted as even more of a bastard than he already was. And shooting Chopper in the back - I don't think he would ever have been forgiven by the readers! Anyway, we split up at that time and John actually wrote the last instalment of the story himself.

Do you think the younger readers pick up on the irony in Dredd - the fact that he can be the villain?

Sometimes it seems to me that the irony escapes the older readers as well! It's a really hard one for me to comment on, because when me and John write the story, obviously we know exactly what we are getting at, and obviously we know that there are two layers to it, and obviously we know if we're being ironic. But we can't interpret it through anyone else's eyes. Experience gives you some ability to do that. But as you say - and I suppose it is particularly with younger readers - the irony escapes them. I've actually been thinking about what makes Judge Dredd popular, and I figure it's because nearly everybody would like to break many of the stupid laws which we have, but they're afraid to do so. And instead of that fear translating into rebellion, it's translated in a more politically correct way which is enjoying other people being punished for breaking those laws.

And it's like, watching criminals being punished has now become the major entertainment on television. It's like every channel, every night, you've got programmes where the hero is our drug squads or the bill or customs and excise men - anybody that wears a uniform is a hero. And the people that they punish are always shown to have no redeeming graces, like for instance if they're after heroin guys, these guys are smuggling in forty tons of heroin and it's gonna kill all the children in Europe and stuff like that.

With Judge Dredd, we used to think that it was a satire on that sort of thing, and we only said it half in earnest. When people asked in interviews, we used to say, "Well, Dredd is a pointer towards the way the world's going, and if you're not careful, that's what we're going to end up with." And although Dredd's set up in something like the year 2115, the horror is we've actually come up with Dredd laws now - almost all the world is under oppressive Dredd-like laws. It's happened now. And the next step - what do you think the next step is? Totalitarianism.

I don't know if something like, say, the Internet can prevent this, with the spread of information. Information can spread faster than the authorities can stop it spreading. The authorities are all in the business of stopping the spread of information, so they can control it. The explosion that's going on now may just mean that authority is dead. Which would be a really good thing, because then the worst excesses of Judge Dredd would be avoided.

For instance, at the end of The Apocalypse War, we had Dredd do a really terrible thing. He forced the East-Megs to select the centre of their city and then detonate a nuclear device in it, killing millions, as if the lives of all these people mean nothing at all. And actually, the way the world is, to the authorities - to all authorities - lives don't mean anything at all. Our lives are valueless. They don't care. They will kill all of us if they have to, if they thought that it would do them any good. And that is what Judge Dredd is. Judge Dredd is a fascist. Never mind all the rhetorical "do it for the good of the city".

I saw Howard Chaykin's got a new comic out called Cyberella, and I saw that he starts the story off with a quote from Arnold Schwarzenegger, saying that 95% of the people in the world are sheep, and need to be told what to do. Now, to a certain extent I can accept that. The horror is when you realise that the people who think they should be telling the other 95% what to do are people like Arnold Schwarzenegger! That's where the horror comes into it, because people like him believe that they have a right to tell other people what to do.

Nobody has a right to tell anybody what to do, as long as their action isn't harmful.

What did you think of the Judge Dredd movie?

Well, now you're asking... Firstly, I feel pissed off that by the time they got around to asking John Wagner and I if we were interested in having a go at writing a screenplay for it, they had already had fourteen screenplays written. When they called us, we spent six weeks working on it, and we finally figured out what we thought was the way to make Judge Dredd palatable to a mass audience. So we called the studio, and they immediately said, "Fax it to us," and we said, "Well, we've spent six weeks working on this, we wanna know if we're getting paid for it." "We'll talk about pay after we've got the idea," and we said "No, that's what you're paying for, the idea," and they said "Well, fuck off!" (laughter)

I have lost count of the number of times that I've been phoned up by people from the film world saying, "I've got a great new 'in' to this studio, I've got a great new source of finance, or whatever, and we need ideas to get it started off. Can you let us have half a dozen ideas? We're not paying just now, but once we're in production..."

At the moment, the people who have the option to the Lobo movie have had at least three screenplays written, and all three of them - which I have seen, although I'm not supposed to have - are total shite. In one of them, for the first twenty minutes of the movie, Lobo's a really bad bastard, doing all the things that you expect of Lobo. And then you get a scene of Lobo in a hospital where his grandmother is dying, and it turns out that the reason he's committing all these crimes and carnage and atrocity is because he loves the old lady so much, and she's on this rarest drug in the galaxy... Have you ever heard such nonsense?

So Keith Geffen and I decided we'd had enough, and we've done a treatment for a Lobo movie off our own backs, send it in to the studio, and the feedback that we got back from everybody except the executives is that it's great, this is the way a Lobo movie should be. But the feedback that we get back from the executives is "Oh, well, we're not sure about this. You guys are comic writers, we're used to working with professional movie writers." These people are like the editors I was talking about earlier. They stay in their jobs, and their main purpose is to justify their own existence rather than to make money or produce successful films....

I can't imagine what your question was!

The Dredd movie! The finished product...

(laughter) Right, the finished product, the Dredd movie! I thought that visually it was very good, I thought Kevin Walker and the guy who did Mean Machine, Chris Halls, they did a marvellous job, it looked really great. The kernel of what was wrong with the movie is the fact that, instead of telling Sly Stallone, "You're being paid nine million dollars for this, Sly! Act the part of Judge Dredd!" - Sly said, "I'm being paid nine million dollars for this - write Judge Dredd to fit my pre-existing character." So instead of being a bad tough-guy, Judge Dredd had to be a nice tough-guy. And we know that he's not a nice tough-guy. I mean you can put it another way and say, what they were trying to do was gloss over the fact that Judge Dredd is a fascist, because they figure you can't have a fascist as a hero. So they changed the essence of Judge Dredd.

Now, I haven't seen the Tank Girl movie, but I've read the comic adaptation, and they changed the essence of Tank Girl. They gave her an origin and all that shit which she'd never had, and it made her into something which she wasn't. Tank Girl was Tank Girl because she was anarchic, and they tried to give an anarchic character a structure, and of course the movie was gonna be a failure.

If you look at the one character that has been a consistent hit in the movies, it's Batman, and that's because they haven't changed the essence of Batman. Batman is still an obsessed loner who fights crime because his parents were killed in front of him when he was a child. They haven't changed that in Batman. They made the Joker the guy who did it, but that didn't matter - the basic kernel of Batman is at the centre. Whereas they changed the nugget at the core of Judge Dredd, they changed what was at the core of Tank Girl. If they do any of these versions of Lobo that they've got scripts for so far, they'll have changed the essence of Lobo, and it'll be a failure.

It's like Hollywood trying to cash in on teen crazes - you just know, you just need to hear the title of it to know they're not in step with the audience that they're trying to capture. They don't get the joke. And that's what happened in the Dredd movie, they didn't get it. I know that it's easy to say and it's hard to do, but had they come to John and I at the start, when they first decided to make a movie - if they'd said, "Do you wanna have some input on this," we could have corrected every mistake that they made all the way along. Instead of an eighty-five million dollar failure, they could have had an eighty-five million dollar hit. But there you go - as I say, it's easier to say that, and it's a lot harder to have proved it at the time. It's easy to say it with Lobo, and it'll be a lot harder to do it.

The Bogie Man was an extremely funny independent comic about an escaped lunatic who thinks he is Humphrey Bogart, set in modern-day Glasgow. How did the project first come about?

You'll have to forgive my perception of time, I can't tell you what year this was, but the first year that DC started looking for British talent, they sent Dick Giordano over to this country to interview people who might want to go to the States to work. I think they called people like Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons, Ian Gibson. John Wagner and I decided that we should get in on this trend as well, and we came up with this character who was a detective. The story was actually set I believe in New York, and it was The Bogie Man.

I think that at that time Ian Gibson, we wanted him to be the artist on it, but he read the script and he wasn't amused. We submitted it to DC and DC said, "No, we don't publish this kind of thing." We put in a proposal I think to Denny O'Neill, and he said, "No, we don't do this." This was before they started Vertigo, I guess that it could have been published by Vertigo.

Anyway, it just languished in a file, and we thought no more about it, until it was announced that Glasgow was going to be the European City of Culture. Robin Smith and John McShane, who owned AKA Comics in Glasgow, were talking, and John McShane was saying that Glasgow was gonna get world-wide publicity because of this thing, and really they should publish a Glasgow comic. And Robin had the bright idea - he remembered this Bogie Man thing that John and I had done and he said, "Would that work if you set it in Glasgow?" And there you go, that's how the Bogie Man was born.

It probably worked much better in Glasgow than in New York.

Oh yeah, definitely. It was much funnier than it would have been if we'd done it in our original American version. John McShane with his partner George set up a company called Fat Man Press, and they published the first Bogie Man mini-series. However, because of a series of misunderstandings and the fact that they didn't realise that publishing is as hard as it is to make a profit in, things didn't work out well. I believe that at 28,000 copies, The Bogie Man's still the best-selling independent comic ever in this country. But there was a string of bad luck. 50,000 copies were stolen from a warehouse, the comic shop was broken into and thousand Bogie Man T-shirts were stolen - y'know, just a whole load of things like that, and the publisher's budget ran out. So issue 2 didn't actually appear until a year after issue 1, and nothing is hot enough to stay hot for a year. So we had lost a lot of the momentum.

Channel Four, BBC and Scottish Television approached us to buy Bogie Man for television, and because the publisher was acting as our agent - that was normal in these cases - and as we didn't have any first-hand knowledge of either STV or Channel Four, we chose the BBC.

Bogie Man as you know is a farce, and it is impossible to translate farce into any other medium, it just can't be done. A farce is a farce is a farce. But at the time, Robbie Coltrane wanted to escape his comic actor image and he insisted that Bogie Man be written to give emotional depth to the character. So that instead of just being a lunatic, he was a lunatic with a purpose, a lunatic for a reason, or a lunatic with a cause, the whole search for his father's death and all that sort of nonsense. It totally lost the farce-like intensity of it - and having watched the first episode of Cracker, it was obvious from that that Robbie had found what he had been looking for in Bogie Man. But having said that, you should have just fucking left Bogie Man alone, ya bastard, Robbie!

Because, like the Dredd movie, it turned into a hybrid. Half of it was funny and half of it, you're going, "What's all this about?" Whereas they should have just played it as a farce. Because the first one was a flop in the ratings, it meant that they didn't pick up on the Chinatoon story and they didn't pick up on the Bogie Goes To Manhattan, and the fourth and final Bogie Man story - Return To Casablanca - is still languishing in our Bogie file. It's never been written because we don't have a publisher for it.

We got excited about two years ago - Andy Helfer's Paradox Press decided that they would like to publish Bogie Man in their little format books, and they told us that if it was successful, they'd then commission Return To Casablanca for an original Bogie novel, which is all we want to do. We've got one more Bogie story that we want to tell, and just leave it there. And of course, they never put it out. And the contract stipulates that we can't do a new version for any other publisher until they've done their version. So the whole Bogie Man thing is in abeyance.

Although I can complain that I'm one of the only three people in the country who's had a show on the BBC and hasn't been paid for it. The publisher's company went bankrupt, so John and I haven't even got our writer's fee from the BBC!

A lot of your writing includes references to old movies. Is that something you're conscious of?

Oh yeah. I guess these were movies that we were brought up on, black and white movies. From a writer's point of view, almost any movie which had Humphrey Bogart or Edward G. Robinson or James Cagney, just having these people in them did something to lift it above the normal quality. In the same way I find that, say, the Three Stooges, although they're a bit slow compared to comedy now, and Laurel and Hardy - if you can slow yourself down to that, in essence they're much funnier than almost anything that I see now. That may just be because when I was a kid that's the sort of thing I was seeing at the Saturday morning matinee or whatever, but I've always had a great love for black and white movies. I was gonna say it's not just the nostalgia, but it might just be nostalgia, I dunno...

I prefer black and white comics as well. I was brought up on black and white comics and to me a colour comic is an American comic, and when I see 2000AD now, and I see that it's all painted colour, it looks like segments taken out of a graphic novel rather than a vibrant, spontaneous weekly comic. It's lost that feel that sort of put it in tune with the readers.

How did you get to write Batman?

Well, Batman's always been my favourite comic character, even though I gave up on DC Comics when Marvel launched The Fantastic Four etc. I didn't buy an DC Comics for at least the next 20 years, so I'd no idea what was happening with Batman, I learned about Neal Adams and stuff in retrospect. Anyway, John Wagner and I had tried to get DC Comics interested in us, and DC Comics weren't interested in any projects. The first was Bogie Man, the second was Bob The Galactic Bum, which they finally got around to doing last year, and the third one was, I think, The Chronicles of Ghengis Grimtoad, which eventually was mutated into a thing that Ian Gibson illustrated and that Marvel UK put out. Anyway, they had turned them all down and John and I were at our wits end.

Totally out of the blue we got a call from Denny O'Neill saying, "I've just taken over as Editor on Detective Comics, I'm looking for a new writing team. I've read your Judge Dredd, we think you could do Batman in that kind of gritty style." And we said, we'll have a go. And he said okay, give me a two-part story. So we did The Ventriloquist story, and he said okay, you've got the job.

John and I wrote another three together before John decided to pull out. Sales of Detective were below the break-even point, and I believe that even though it was DC's oldest comic, they were considering closing Detective Comics down at that time, because it was selling so badly. Our input into it did not significantly raise sales. But then the first Batman movie came out with its attendant hype, and sales of Detective Comics went up by close to a thousand per cent. From that high point they fell gradually over the next couple of years, but then they took off again when the Knightfall thing started in Batman.

I like it because Batman has always been my favourite character. I'm surprised that I'm still working on it after all this time, and in an ideal world I would actually have gone to work on something else, but like everybody else I've got the rent to pay, and it's not easy to give up a job if you haven't got another job to do.

So what kind of story would you like to do ideally?

Well, ideally I would like to do my own comic. I believe more and more that it is the way of the future for anti-authoritarian freelancers like myself, who find that many editors are so fucking stupid that they could do it themselves. I believe that self-publishing is the real answer. However, in my own case, I've spent my entire working life, or almost all my working life, as a freelance, which means that I am dependent on other people coming to me with characters and saying, "Could you write a story about this character for us?" To self-publish something means that I've got to come up with a character of my own, which is worthy of finding an audience. And I think it would be easier to do that when you're young and at the start of your career rather than suddenly having to do it - not when you're thinking of retiring, but you know what I mean? I'm 47 years old, and the older you get, the harder it gets to make any kind of change at all.

So ideally, I've got things worked out for it, I've got artists planned, I've spoken to artists, and they keep trying to gee me into doing it, I've got plans to bring out my own comic. And it would not be to please anybody except for me. If people don't like it, they could fuck off and not buy it. If they did like it, that would be okay, but at the end of the day I would still be able to say, it's my comic. And it would be anthology style. We've got stories, some of them have been partially developed, but because of my regular work, which I've got to do to make a living, I don't have the time to devote to it that I would like to have. However, I'm hoping that after this summer...

I'm doing the junior novelisation for the new Batman movie, and they've asked me to write an original Robin book. I quite like writing fiction. John and I have always been on the lookout for alternatives to comics, and we have tried, you would not believe how hard we've tried. I have got several books of short stories which are published by Hamlin and Purnell and various other publishers. We tried doing some stuff for radio which didn't work out, we tried doing some stuff for TV which hasn't worked out yet, although we've got a brilliant idea for a situation comedy, the best sitcom since The Young Ones, in fact. It's well-developed, there's only the last part of it to be done, but every time we sit down and start on it, something seems to happen.

We've tried a gag strip for The Daily Mirror and The Sun, both of which had the same reaction to it - "We thought it was hilarious, it made us laugh out loud, but it would upset too many of our readers." I'm not going to go into it, because I've been involved in this business long enough to know that ideas are two a penny. Everybody who works in this business should have a hundred ideas a day. The hard part is firstly, finding a good idea, and secondly, putting that good idea into practice. And this gag-strip that John and I did for the newspapers, I'm not saying it would be a phenomenon, but it would be very popular, just because of the nature of it. It captures a feeling that's there in culture anyway and gives it a voice. And that's what the most popular things are, that's the way that they take off. Something like Viz. When they did it first it sold something like 250 copies and they were doing it as a home magazine. It required the marketing deal to expose it to the audience that it should have been before anyway. Instead of comics fans it was kids; obviously kids were going to pick this up.

It's galling that, having had an idea that has global potential, we can't even get it published in this country because they're afraid that it'll upset their readers. Although they themselves - they the editors - think it's funny - so funny that they laughed out loud - they are trying to do it for the sake of their readers, which they shouldn't do. A good editor will be doing it for themself. If they think it's funny, other people will think it's funny as well.

Anyway, it's not just cynicism, that - there's truth to it. Once an organisation has been set up - any group - it's almost impossible to get it to close down again, whether its objectives have been achieved or not. It takes on a life of its own which seeks to kill competition off at the roots. It's very unfortunate. It's what makes it harder for lots of these young kids to get into comics now, although there are so many people looking for work that you could almost put out a proper little comic aimed specifically at people who wanted to work in comics! I've thought about writing a book - "How I Made A Million Writing Comics" - although I could call it "How I Made A Million Writing A Book Called 'How I Made A Million Writing Comics'"! (laughter) I've gotta work that into a Lobo story!

It's interesting to hear you talk about self-publishing, because Alan Moore has been talking about producing his own magazine...

I think that would be great, and it would be the perfect way in which to view Alan and Alan's views, rather than filtering Alan through the medium of Image comics, for instance. Yeah, I sincerely believe it's the way of the future. It's just that for anybody who's set in their ways, it's really difficult to break out of them and break into self- publishing, and to a large extent economic necessity is what's gonna drive people into it.

If you did do an anthology comic, what sort of stuff would you want to include?

I'm not telling you that - because then you'd go and do it! (laughter) It's really easy to sit around and talk about something like that - the hard thing is actually doing it. However, let me put it this way - it wouldn't be a case of "get the old guys together again to show what we could do". It would be a case of utilising the wannabes and the people who are on the point of making it the way that they deserve. There comes a point in everybody's would-be career where, if their confidence isn't built up, everything goes downhill after that. Now for me it was when that editor rejected my first comic stories when I was 17 or 18. He cost me ten years worth of comics writing. I went to other fields, but I never tried comics writing again for ten years. If he had said, "Well no, it's not what we want - but if you did this and that in the next thing and tried something else", gave me encouragement, hope, optimism, it might have changed absolutely everything for me. I might have been writing Batman ten years before I actually started writing Batman. So I feel really bad when I see other people having difficulty, when they have talent. I figure it would be a way of exposing them, and giving them an opportunity.

Isn't this a risky time to develop a new comic?

Yeah, well it is a risky prospect. The thing is that it's at times of the greatest depression that the greatest opportunities arise. Anybody who starts off a successful comic, or successful line of comics, could be in at a turn of the market, and they will be first, and they will make the most money out of it. Fleetway in particular - and this isn't just their comics division - Fleetway is renowned for being a follower rather than a leader. It's always been Fleetway's motto, "Wait until somebody has a success, and then we put our vast resources behind copying it." If you look at what Fleetway have done over the years, they've hardly ever started any trends, but when a trend has started, they jump in. Whoever starts the next trend, or whoever's in there at the start of the next trend is gonna make a fortune out of it. I don't know, unfortunately, what the next trend is. Even if you could predict it, it has to be something which appeals to you personally. For a while it looked like Manga was going to be it, but I watched half a dozen Manga movies, and figured, that's enough. I've seen all that I ever want of it, so for me, it didn't really work. The cultural difference was too great.

What advice would you give to would-be comics writers?

First, if you believe in yourself, don't let anybody else put you off. That doesn't mean to say, don't listen to other people's advice, but don't let anybody talk you out of it if you have a sincere belief in yourself. Endurance is a useful quality. Quite often when I write back to people who are trying to get stuff accepted into the market, I use the example of a crime writer called John Creasey, who did a character called The Toff, who you may not have heard of, but he was quite popular I think in the 1950s. Anyway, this Toff was selling tens of millions of copies in languages all over the world, but Creasey had 450 rejections from publishers for various stories before he got his first Toff story in print. He believed in what he had. The Toff wasn't actually very good - I don't know why it sold tens of millions of copies, but the point is he believed in it enough to keep on doing it, and if you believe in your stuff then you've got to keep on doing it. It's very easy, and I speak from personal experience, it's very easy to be put off.

A lot of the characters you've written tend to be outsiders. Is that a part of yourself your own character coming through?

Yes, I'm an outsider. I love people in general, I love the idea of people and I love the idea of Mankind living in harmony... but I find that on an individual level people are bastards! They really get up my nose! (laughter) So, ideally, I would like to live on a secluded cliff-top fifty miles from the nearest civilisation, and once a month I would go and get my groceries and that would be it. The only people I would see would be the people who considered it worth making the effort to make the journey. But because Sue works up in London, we've got to have a kind of compromise. She's got to live within travelling distance of London. So instead of some rocky island in the Atlantic, I live in Essex!

Do you feel a moral responsibility towards your readers?

Oh yeah. I wouldn't write any story with a moral contrary to what I believe myself. (pause) I'm just trying to reconcile that with Lobo... (laughter) You've got to treat Lobo the way that I treat him - he's a parody. He's a cartoon character, and DC don't accept this. DC still think that Lobo's part of the DC Universe and that he's a superhero, whereas I know that he's not. Lobo's like Bugs Bunny, that's what Lobo is. But they don't accept that, and consequently a lot of the stuff I write that is parody gets censored. I don't know if you saw Lobo Goes To Hollywood, but that had to be re-written several times.

Under American law, if something is stated to be a work of parody, for instance National Lampoon or Mad Magazine, they have then got some amendment under the American Constitution which protects their free speech to make parody of something. But unless DC announce that Lobo is a parody, Lobo doesn't enjoy that protection. At the moment I believe that DC is being pursued by Johnny and Edgar Winter. They're blues guitarists who were also pop stars during the late Sixties and early Seventies. They're albinos, they've got white hair and pink eyes, and they're shit-hot blues guitarists. I've got one of their albums still around. Anyway, Joe Lansdale - I think in a Jonah Hex comic - as a tribute to the Winter Brothers, used a pair of villains called the Winter Brothers who were - and I quote, I think - "Pig-fucking cannibals". (laughter) And of course when this came out in print and the Winter Brothers saw it, they failed to see it as the homage which Joe Lansdale meant it, and they're now suing DC.

I got a call from the editor of Lobo to say that he was in a bit of a quandary because in an issue of Lobo that I did with Martin Emond, I had called them Johnny and Edgar Summer, and although they weren't cannibals and they weren't pig-fuckers, they were remarkable mainly for their stupidity... (laughter) But the DC lawyers had sent a memo around asking everybody if they had ever mentioned these brothers, and to let them know. So they had to be handed over, and since then Lobo scripts have been subjected to quite a lot of scrutiny. There's one Lobo script - which was originally called "The Hand-To-Hand Job"... (laughter) ... which was changed to something like "It's A Man's World" and famous artist Frank Quitely who is doing the Flex Mentallo stuff with Grant Morrison, he was the artist on it, so he did all the pencils for it. They have got a 22-page Lobo sex story, which they refuse to release...

I'd pay good money to see that...

It's a parody of Hugh Hefner. The guy gets kidnapped by this male-liberation group because his exposure of the female body is responsible for female lib. This is one of these Iron John male-bonding groups who kidnap him and they're gonna torture him, and Lobo is hired to get him back. It was actually quite funny, but it's never going to see the light of day! (laughter)

We did a 36-page Lobo's Dog special. At the start of the story, Lobo falls into quicksand, and he's in danger of drowning - even his great powers can't get him out of quicksand - so he gives the dog these detailed instructions - "You've gotta go do this, get that and save me". And the dog, by the time you've turned over the page, the dog's seen this female dog (laughter). So it's away humping, and anyway, it gets involved its own adventure, and it's only on the second to last page it remembers it has to go back and save Lobo. Anyway, the artist drew the dog complete with bollocks in every picture, and in the pictures where the dog has a secondary role, like something else is happening, he's drawn the dog just sitting casually scratching itself and licking itself! And DC have paid for it, but now they've binned it - they're never going to put it in an issue because the dog's got bollocks! (laughter) Oh, it's unbelievable...

You've described yourself as anti-authoritarian. How do you reconcile that with a sense of responsibility?

The way I see things, only an anti-authoritarian is capable of any sense of real responsibility. Almost all authority in today's world is corrupt. The people in positions of power use deceit to get themselves elected, manipulation to keep the masses enslaved, and force or threat of force to keep themselves in power. Unfortunately, the example they set means that their evil has spread to almost every part of life today.

How can anyone whose existence depends on deceiving or threatening or assaulting other human beings possibly feel any sense of responsibility? Of course, all authorities trot out the same irrational reasons for their psychotic behaviour - they claim that everything they do is for the good of 'the state', or 'the country', or ' the ruling ideology'. It's all crap... irrational reasoning which allows Deng to crush protestors with tanks, or Yeltsin to slaughter 80,000 Chechenians, or John Major to keep the war alive in Northern Ireland.

Look at it this way: when Fred West killed a dozen innocent people, he was branded one of the most evil men in history. When Boris Yeltsin ordered the 80,000 deaths in Chechenia, he was re-elected President of Russia. Objectively speaking - behaviourally speaking - speaking from the point of view of all those innocent dead people - which man is the more evil?

Or take the right-wing president of Albania, whose Shik secret police have tortured and slain many tens of thousands of innocent people. This president has been given billions of dollars by Britain, Europe and America, whose governments were all aware that money would be used to kill his political opponents. But they gave that money anyway - they took it from honest, hardworking Brits like you and me, gave it to a psychotic mass-murderer, and now they profess shock that he used their money to kill. The truth is, the authorities don't give a shit how this dictator treats his 'subjects'. In their heart of hearts, all of them share a terrible secret - they would just as happily torture and kill their own people if they thought that they had to.

In his book "The Insanity of Normality", America's top psychologist Dr Arno Gruen remarks that he applied the test for psychotic behaviour used in mental institutions to American presidents Bush and Nixon. Both scored so low that Gruen concluded that, if they hadn't been politicians, they'd have been forcibly locked up as dangers to society.

Do you get the feeling that comics are diversifying now to seek out new markets?

Oh yeah, yeah, and I think that quite a good job is being made of it in the search for other markets. Although I used to be a science fiction fan, I'm not particularly a science fiction fan any longer. And although I used to be a superhero fan, I'm not particularly a superhero fan any longer. I have tired of the soap opera which most superhero comics are. I'm not criticising it - fuck, I'm 47 years old, I should be tired of it, y'know? I've been reading comics for a long, long time. But the whole thing needs a fresh slant on it, in the way that Frank Miller and Alan Moore gave the whole market a fresh slant when they did the things that they did. Swamp Thing - there had never been a comic done like that before. Miller's take on Batman took it back to its roots but in a context that we could relate to. Now, very few people have that capability.

Having said that, the other side of that coin is, very few people are character creators, and you notice that characters like Batman and almost all of the Marvel characters and almost all of the 2000AD characters were created by a very small group of people. Wagner and Mills for 2000AD, Kirby for Marvel, and Bob Kane and Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson on the Batman stuff. It's a talent that very few people have, to continue to spew out new characters and make them different from each other. And what I do and what most other people in this business do is to interpret characters that these few character creators have brought out. I mean, both Miller and Moore fall into the category of character interpreters rather than character creators. I think that out of everything that Alan Moore's ever done, there's only one comic still going, at least for DC, that has his stuff in it, and that's Hellblazer with John Constantine. But they've been using ideas that Alan gave them.

The whole of Vertigo is based on his ideas, isn't it?

Yeah, well that's it. The guy's a fucking volcano of ideas, they should never have let him go in the way that they did. And it's an example of how stupid any authority can be. Because they would rather bite off the hand that feeds them than allow the hand to have any kind of share in the profits that they've generated. It's unbelievable.

Have you ever been tempted to tell a company or an editor to get lost?

Ah... Yes, I have told editors - it's not anything I would want to talk about, but yes, I certainly can be a fairly forthright person. I've had a lot of disputes with Fleetway over the years. When I first started off as a freelance, I was the National Union of Journalists Freelance Organiser, and had several brushes with management which may have coloured their attitudes towards me in later years. It was the same people who fired me that I came up against fighting for the Union. But I quarrelled with the Union as well - I quarrel with all authorities, and basically the Union fired me as well! (laughter) Well, they didn't fire me, but I resigned from the Union. I found that the Union was the same as the employers, in different ways. All authorities, everybody who purports to tell you what to do, if you're not harming anybody else in what you do, everybody who purports to tell you what to do is wrong.

I don't know how deeply to go into it. I'm trying to do it in comic stories, but I don't know how entertaining it is. I'm doing an Anarky mini-series with Norm Breyfogle where I'm attempting to have Anarky espouse my own political beliefs. At the time that I created Anarky, I thought I was more or less an anarchist, but I realise that I'm not an anarchist, I'm something else. I'm not sure that there's a name for it, but like I said earlier, my observation is that almost everything in society is based on deceit, and the ones who commit the greatest deceit have to have armed force to back them up. So that, although we apparently live in a democracy, if there's anything that you don't agree with...

Let's say that you don't agree with your Income Tax being used to subsidise arms companies that are selling arms to the Indonesians that killed 300,000 people. If you don't agree with that you've only got one option - vote Labour at the next election. Which won't make any difference, because they give the same subsidies to the arms companies. So there's something evil going on here. Money is taken off us - because if you refuse to pay it, you are put in jail, and they'll take whatever you've got anyway - so we are being forced to give money to make guns to shoot innocent people on the other side of the world. What is the fucking sense in that? Who profits from that? Only the people who make a living out of deceit have got any reason for doing anything at all like that. Sue forbids me to watch the news or current affairs programmes or anything else like that on the television any more, because it is a constant stream of outright lies, sly deceits and subversive non-sequiturs. They take everything out of context.

I read The Guardian, and The Guardian has been raving about this new sitcom Friends. But I watched it, and all I want to do is hit these people. I want to have a big chain around my fist and just pound it into their stupid, lying, deceitful fucking faces. And yet, according to The Guardian it's the high-point of one-liners, and it's like life has been reduced to a series of fucking one-liners, and there's no context for any of it. Except for me, I've got context, and hopefully I can put it over via Anarky.

Alan Moore has said that he doesn't want to use superhero stories to discuss important issues - whereas you don't seem to have a problem with that.

Maybe Alan's just quicker on the uptake than I am. I do feel increasingly that it's impossible to deal with many real-life situations in comics for the simple reason that all comics are founded on irrationality. They rely on the reader 'suspending his disbelief'. It is not possible to use irrationality as a foundation for the rational treatment of story subject material. The truth is: if there really was a Batman, he'd have used his incredible detective brain to have figured out exactly what is wrong with the world. If there really was a Superman, he'd immediately be able to see through the web of lies that enmeshes our civilisation. If there really was a Green Lantern, he'd fuck off and live on the Moon.

However, never let it be said that I don't enjoy butting my head against a brick wall. I'll keep trying.

Do you feel like you're trying to 'teach' people--?

No, no. Fuck, I'm a hopeless teacher, but through the medium of what I hope is an entertaining story, I want people who read the story to think about it, and say "Fuck, could that be right?" I believe - and I'm not alone here, this isn't any sort of elitist nonsense, in fact it's anti-elitist nonsense - but I believe that I have seen through something that, so far, not many people have seen through, and that in that the near future, an awful lot more people are going to have to see through, because we cannot go on the way that we are. I'm speaking globally, where tens of millions of people are dying every year, for no reason whatsoever. And there's all this amazing potential. If nothing else, all these people that are dying could be buying my comics, you know? They could be making me rich and instead they're dying! And the more that I think about it, the more that I look into it, the underlying reason behind all of it, and I don't want to be too simplistic, but... Ah fuck, there's not any way of me telling you this without going into the whole fucking thought behind it, okay?

It's generally accepted that consciousness has been evolving since Man first evolved as a separate species around two million years ago, and that consciousness is supposed to have evolved gradually since then. A guy called Julian Jaynes, about twenty years ago, came out with a radical theory - that consciousness was only invented less that 3,000 years ago, as a result of collapsing civilisations. Prior to that point - and he has given evidence that has swayed me, I believe him - prior to that point, man was an unthinking, unconscious animal who was capable of arithmetic, hieroglyphics, reasoning, astronomy, astrology, but he did not have ego-consciousness that allowed him to think in blueprints and maps and metaphors the way we do. According to James, society became so complex around 1,000 BC that the old ways of doing things could no longer stand the sheer pressure, society collapsed and ego-consciousness was born out of that collapse in society.

Now the extrapolations from Jaynes' theory is that for the last two and a half thousand years approximately, since the golden age of consciousness in Greece, we have been living under a particular paradigm which is wrong. In ancient Greece the two philosophical schools basically were Plato's, which held that Mankind was by nature a brute and an animal, and needed an elitist government to look after it - much as Arnold Schwarzenegger would say - and Aristotle, who said that Man is basically good and kind and decent and gets on okay with other men, as long as some bastard doesn't come along and try to impose an external authority on him, which is basically what my philosophy would be.

For the last 2,500 years, the Western world has followed Plato's ideas. They form the ideological bed on which all government by force or coercion is founded. he 'reasoned' that some men have golden souls, and that this entitles them to rule the men with 'silver souls', who still get to lord it over Joe Public, who only has a crappy bronze soul. In Plato's world, the country/flag/ideology/religion is always worth more than the actual human individual. This allows Marxism, fascism, Catholicism, Islam to slaughter anyone who refuses to accept the 'one great truth' which they always profess to have.

If I can divert us again for a moment; in the harshest economic terms, there are only two kinds of people in the world. Producers, who create goods, services and values to sell or exchange with others... and Non-producers. It is recognised that certain non-producers (the sick, old, young) must be cared for. But there is a class of non-producer which seeks deliberately to live off the producers; call them parasites, or leeches. Applying this criterion to many facets of life produces some interesting results - chiefly that politicians, royals, religious leaders, lawyers, bureaucrats, gurus, and many journalists, are all fucking leeches.

Since the discovery of rational consciousness, they have constantly abused rational consciousness to provide their own unearned livings - only possible by destroying the livings of others. Now, for the first time in recorded history, there are more leeches than there are producers. The center cannot hold. As global civilisation continues to become more complex, at an ever-increasing rate, problems multiply. The mumbo-jumbo voodoo answers given by all politics, religion and philosophy are found to be wanting. As the information revolution spreads, the parasites are increasingly revealed for what they are.

In a perfect world, the parasites would all just fade away and die. In the real world, it is evident they will never give up their unearned privileges. They have now embarked on the greatest feeding frenzy in history in a desperate attempt to grab what they can before the planet goes down the drain. Of course, this is also totally irrational behaviour. However - and this is the single thought that keeps me going - one by one the people of the world are going to waken up (me too). They're going to realise - there are no Messiahs, no Gods, any more than there is a need for force-backed government.

I'll tell you, though - it's really hard to get that across in a comic book!

© Andy Diggle 1997