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..."
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
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
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
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
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
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
Nobody has a right to tell anybody what to do, as long as their action
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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