Thursday, August 4, 2016

Fear of an early 2000ad

When I was 10 years old, I was terrified by the idea that they might stop publishing 2000ad – or, even worse, merge it in with boring old Eagle – and it would be gone forever.

I wasn't scared of growing up, or spiders, or clowns, or the inevitability of death, or anything sensible and normal like that. I was scared that my favourite comic in the world would go away. I knew what my priorities in life were, and the ongoing reliability of 2000ad was number one.

I'm a grown man now, and plenty of other things freak the shit out of me, like all proper grown-ups. But the thought of 2000ad going away is still there in the top 10 things I fear.

To be clear, I don't think the comic is going anywhere any time soon – under the steady Tharg-ship of Matt Smith, 2000ad is still a great comic with an incredibly loyal audience. There are still the old favourite strips and characters, and there are still noble attempts to do something new. Most of them fail, but not all of them, and the highlights are truly worth the effort.

There is still a kick in my weekly ritual of buying the latest issue off the shelves of my local shop. The habit is still strong, more than three decades after it started, and I expect it to continue for a while yet.

But nothing lasts forever, and print publications know that better than anybody. 2000ad has made it more than a decade and a half past its namesake year, but there is a good chance it won't make it to 2100ad.

At least, there is a good chance the print version won't make it. Inevitably, the future lies in digital, and there is no reason the comic can't live on in electronic form for a thousand years.

The comic and its publisher made early and faltering steps into the digital realm years ago, and became a trend-setter in delivering a weekly dose of thrillpower to readers' tablets, phones and other devices. There were a few mis-steps along the way, like there always are, but the digital arm of 2000ad delivers a strong, reliable product every seven days (as well as the Megazine and other specials).

And it's just unavoidable that one day, the costs of producing an actual physical object – including printing, shipping and distribution expenses - won't add up, and it will finally disappear from the shelves of book stores, comic shops and newsagents. As print moves from mainstream culture to niche market, the accounts don't balance like they once did.

Rebellion, the comic's owners, have made no secret of the fact that they see 2000ad as an IP farm, producing crazy characters and story-lines to spin off into more lucrative areas like movies and video games. The comic needs to stay alive in some form for this to continue, and a digital half-life is better than nothing.

So it's bound to happen, sooner or later. I can't blame them for considering it, but it will still end 2000ad for me.

I'm just shallow enough to toss away 30 years of habit if the comic goes fully digital, and put a full stop in a ludicrously long obsession. I've tried, but digital comics are just not for me – it feels less real, and somehow makes reading comics more of a chore. I think it's a brilliant format for other folks and their needs, but paper still matters to me.

If there will still big trade paperback collections reprinting the latest adventures of Johnny Alpha or Zombo or anything else under the 2000ad banner, I'd almost certainly be on board for that, but the ritual of the weekly serial would be over.

I still love 2000ad, like I love no other comic on earth. At its very best, it's smarter, funnier, deeper and more exciting than anything else out there. Just look at the Judge Dredd saga, which has been going through yet another period of brutally strong storytelling in the past couple of months, which more than justifies the ever-expanding cover price alone.

Picking 31 of my favourite moments from the past 2000 issues to fill in on this blog while I was off gallivanting around the world for a month was an easy as shit way to keep things ticking over (and resulted in an inexplicable surge in traffic on this site, with most of it coming from Russia. Go figure). I could have picked 2000 moments from the comic's history, if anything, it was hard to whittle it down from the first 70 or 80 that came to mind.

I was a little disappointed I couldn't get more Strontium Dog or Robo -unter in there, but unsurprisingly a lot of them came from the golden age of the comic, which I was young and foolish, but that's not just the 10-year-old inside me saying that. It's because the comic at that time was delivering smart, unpatronising stories with gorgeous art by the likes of Bolland, O'Neill, Gibbons, Wilson, Ezquerra, Gibson, Davis, and McMahon every week.

This set a very high standard, that no comic has ever matched.

(I was also surprised how many of my favourite moments were comedic ones. For a comic with a reputation for intense action and astronomical body counts, it's often the daft one liner or complex punchline that really sticks in the mind. The only moment from the past few years – the sensitive Klegg breaking out into song – was there just because of the funny looks I got on the bus when it literally made me laugh out loud the other week.

The dark, deadpan humour of something like Dredd is not always appreciated, not even by some of the strip's biggest fans, but it a huge part of the story's appeal. You can't take these things too seriously.)

So if it does fade away into digital, I'll miss it. It will certainly help to know it's still rocking along out there somewhere, in a format I just can't muster any enthusiasm for, but I'll still deeply miss getting it every week.

Still, there is even some weird little part of me that would welcome such a full stop. I've got boxes and boxes of these bloody things, and the lovely wife would certainly appreciate it if I stopped adding to the pile.

But it's still a real fear. I'm not bothered by snakes or ghosts or anything like that, but I'm still dreading the day they announce the death of 2000ad.

1 comment:

Tam said...

I feel much the same way. I stopped buying it for years and returned at the start of the Day of Chaos and still look forward to buying it every Wednesday. It's still hit and miss and the prog never quite feels right unless there's a story in it by John Wagner, Pat Mills or (at a push) Alan Grant but it's still one of my favorite British institutions.

However it's worrying how many newsagents have closed in London over the last few years and it's getting harder for the casual buyer to find it these days. Hopefully the digital sales and international circulations are making up for this because I'd be heartbroken to lose it!