Over here in the UK, comics aren’t as enmeshed in our psyche as our US counterparts’. For us, comics all began with The Beano and Dandy, with Dennis the Menace (not that one, ours was spiky haired, red and black jumpered menace to society) and The Bash Street Kids. Sure you’d find the odd Bat title or Spider-Man in the local newsagents, but serious comics were almost impossible to find on a regular basis. But there was one readily available shining light in the darkness and probably one of the most influential breeding grounds for comics writers across the globe. And that light was 2000AD. A title most of you have probably heard of before and surely a title that has a fond place in every UK fans’ heart. How did I come across this gem (you still had to order it specially from the local shop when I was a kid)? Luck would have it my step-dad taught English at a local college, a student had written a piece on Slaine the Barbarian and included a sample, my step father was marking a set of papers and I spotted this hugely muscled warrior amongst the pile of otherwise dull papers. I snatched it up and read it from cover to cover, begged my mum and soon 2000AD was delivered every week with the paper.
And oh what joys were held within: Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, Rogue Trooper, Robo Hunter, Bad Company, Zenith, Nemesis the Warlock, the list goes on and on. Similarly the talent was exceptional, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Simon Bisley, Pat Mills, Kevin O’Neil and Brian Bolland to name but a few, another list that goes on and on. I rapidly became obsessed with Judge Dredd, going and grabbing all the graphic novels I could find (much to my father’s dismay as it meant a two hour journey through the traffic-chocked streets of London for the nearest shop that sold such a thing). One of the things I think we all love so much about comics and what Judge Dredd did so well was create its own universe. A universe that had its own rules, but it wasn’t the fundamental principles that fascinated me, it was the tiny details that gave this world life. Unlike DC and Marvel, 2000AD consists of several stories each issue that, in the main, are not connected to each other in anyway, they exist as entities in their own right. Strontium Dog doesn’t live in the same future as Rogue Trooper, Slaine the Barbarian is not a part of the past that has lead to Judge Dredd and so on. But this was intelligent comic writing, marketed for kids. I soon had my pals in on the act, and soon five of us all received 2000AD on a weekly basis and every Friday consumed an issue before school. We’d spend the whole day discussing who was the coolest member of Bad Company or whether Judge Hershey was foxier than Judge Anderson (hey we were (almost) teenagers).
This then lead to the next big break; when I was about 12, comics hit one of their golden ages. When they really looked like they were going to just become another medium like books or film and break into the mainstream. They were in newspapers and magazines everywhere in the UK, the art and culture press were telling us comics had grown up; pay attention to them. Frank Miller had just written The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore was knee deep in Swamp Thing. Again my step-dad was the catalyst, just before the story became the big talking point, another of his students had written a piece on these very comics. I was handed an issue of Swamp Thing and the Dark Knight graphic, and that was it. I was hooked. Here was an even more fully realised universe than 2000AD had ever offered. And I had caught them about a month before all the papers were saying comics were back. I felt like I’d stumbled onto the movement just before the mainstream; I’d found something unique before the taste makers had got their hands on it.
With this came my first trip to a comics shop (accompanied by my parents – which lessened the cool quotient), but these were rare as a sunny day in Scotland back then. It meant multiple Tube journeys, several dead ends and then finally a shop that was almost mythical: Forbidden Planet. Back then it was a cornucopia of comics, 1000s upon 1000s of back issues, merch and general comics overload (now while I still get my comics fix at the Edinburgh FP branch, week in week out, it’s become the chainstore of the comics world in the UK, with comics being sidelined ever more so to make way for (admittedly very cool) action figures and other film peripherals, rather than the shambling charm of old).
Comics were almost impossible to track down from a reliable steady source, so graphic novels, back-issues and 2000AD became my staple (well at least while I was too young to head into central London alone). I stuck mainly with DC at first, as that had been my first taste of the good stuff, dabbling in Marvel from time to time. I still consider Batman the greatest comic creation of all time, there’s a bleakness and darkness at its core that drives all the best stories. Of course, there have been far more shit Batman stories than good, but when someone nails it it’s a joy to read. I will always have a soft spot for Swamp Thing, that first Alan Moore story arc blew my mind as a kid. And Swamp Thing was my first springboard into the rest of the DC Universe. I saw characters like Dead Man and the Phantom Stranger and realised there were comics telling their story. The universe started to unravel before my eyes.
When I was about 15, a comics shop opened in my home borough (Richmond Upon Thames, part of greater London), the fantastic They Walk Among Us (it’s still there by the way – even though they now have to sell videogames as well to make ends meet, if you’re ever in Richmond check it out). It’s a true independent comics shop run by two very cool people who always had time for a chat and a recommendation. Plus, it has a bizarre claim to fame; if you ever get a chance to purchase Spaced (a UK comedy show, I’m not sure about its availability in the US but it’s bloody funny and packed with comics and sci-fi/horror film references, but in a non-geeky geek way, if you know what I mean) on DVD, check out the comics shop the main character works in, that’s the old They Walk Among Us (before they moved premises). I nearly fell off my sofa when I saw that, especially now I’m based over 600 miles away from my home town up in Scotland. But for a long long time comics were incredibly hard to come by in the UK, graphic novels slowly filtered into regular bookshops and over the last 10 years or so most decent sized towns now have a comic book store of some description.
So that’s how it all started, I’m a journalist now working for The List, Scotland’s answer to Time Out, and the only mainstream UK magazine I can think off that has a comics reviews section every issue (often written by yours truly). I’ve been through my fads of thinking Lobo was the best comic character in the world, only digging independent comics, not being able to afford any comics for year long stretches while at university and now settling down as a Marvel fan (a very recent conversion) while I still keep a watchful eye on the goings on in DC. The simple fact is I love super-hero comics. I love their escapist nature, but at the same time I think they work best when real world issues are transposed to the world of the super-powered. But without 2000AD, like most UK readers, I’d still be thinking comics where those funny little picture books for kids. That’s it – ‘hello’ and tune in next time for another dispatch from the UK.