(Quick disclaimer to avoid confusion: ‘Future Shock’ – the documentary about 2000AD – is completely unconnected to my own ‘Future Shock’ DJ mix sets. This is a happy coincidence but both stem, in part, from the short one-off tales in the comic called…‘Future Shocks’. I can see that it might get confusing as I’m now interviewing the director but it’s a small world and great minds think alike and all that. With that cleared up, let’s get to the interview which I conducted for the Front Row Reviews website.
I run into Paul Goodwin – director of ‘Future Shock! The story of 2000AD’ – outside the green room where I’m due to interview him at the BFI. We’ve never met but I recognised him from the many photos he’s posted on the Future Shock documentary blog, enviably posing with various legendary comic creators, looking like a kid in a sweet shop. Like any nerds of a similar age with a common love of a subject it’s easy to break the ice and I’m eager to find out what drove him and producers Sean Hogan and Helen Mullane to make a documentary about the Galaxy’s Greatest comic, the wonderful weekly dose of Thrill Power that is 2000AD.
(Paul with legendary artist Brian Bolland and producer Helen Mullane)
What made you think 2000AD was a good subject for a documentary, what sparked the idea?
Paul Goodwin: Like all good things it started in the pub! Sean and I go way back and we’d been talking about working together on a serious project for a while. We were both 2000AD fans in our wayward youth and I just said, you know, it’s crazy that someone hadn’t done this yet, and it’d be something that I’d drop everything to go and see! Sean immediately said he’d help make it happen if he could. He suggested bringing Helen on board and once we hooked up and Helen agreed to co-produce it became a real thing.
How old are you and when did you start reading 2000AD?
I’m 40. I picked up the odd random prog in the late 70′s when I was really young (for those of you not familiar with 2000AD ‘speak’ – prog = program i.e. issue). There was a huge choice of British comics at that time, but I never saved those or anything. Years later, the first stuff I actually remember reading was the Judge Child Quest, which a school friend showed to me. I specifically remember Fink & Mean Machine from the Angel gang, and trying to understand why Dredd had such enormous boots!
I just chewed up all the old progs like immediately, the Titan volumes and those Eagle collections (80′s reprints of older strips collected together before the term ‘graphic novel’ had even been invented), mostly bought from Forbidden Planet on Denmark Street or the little shop up Paradise Alley, remember that guy?.
Alas that was before my time, I lived outside of London and would come up at weekends but I definitely went to the Denmark St Forbidden Planet and remember the cramped little space before it moved.
Progs were like 20p or something. Then I started buying it weekly from prog 500, which was the first jump-on prog that came my way. So my era of buying it regularly featured the John Hicklenton Nemesis, ‘Oz’ (Judge Dredd story involving skysurfer Marlon Shakespear aka Chopper), Bad Company and Slaine the King, stuff like that.
Real golden era stuff
Basically I think there’s a real lack of decent behind the scenes material for the comics world, and I had always felt that 2000AD had inspired so many and influenced so much over the years that I really felt that the comic needed to be recognised for its impact. So that’s what we did, hopefully..!
Are the others involved in the production (Sean, Helen etc.) big 2000AD / comics fans too or did you have to bring them up to speed?
Yup, we’re all 2000AD readers, Squaxx I guess you’d say (more 2000AD speak – ‘friends of Tharg, the comic’s alien editor). Naturally we’ve all read the classic ‘golden era’ strips, but the variation in our ages meant we had all read it ‘full time’ at different points. So actually there’s quite a fun spread of our favourite characters and strips. This is very much a passion project for all of us.
Were 2000AD on board from the start and did they help with contacts or were you completely independent?
We are completely independent of Rebellion, who own the comic today. We did, however go and meet Matt Smith (current editor) and Jason Kingsley (owner of Rebellion) before we had shot a frame, it was crucial that we had their blessing to use their artwork, otherwise this would’ve been a very difficult story to tell. Like one of those shitty music docs about Zeppelin or whatever and they can’t play any of the band’s actual music! So Matt & Jason were very cool, laid back about the whole thing and thankfully gave us their blessing – further to that, Matt has really helped us out by sourcing high res artwork of some of the more tricky to get hold of stuff. Plus of course they appear in the doc!
How did you plan to fit 37 years into 105 minutes?
Ha ha yeah, that’s a funny question. Well, I figured there’s the basic chronological story of the creation of the comic, then I wrote questions that I thought would make interesting discussions and then it kind of expanded outwards from there. From the outset we knew it was vital to get an interview with Pat Mills in the can (veteran writer who helped start the comic and still writes for it today) – no Pat, no doc. Thankfully Pat is a real gentleman, he welcomed us into his home for an entire day and gave us so much fantastic material that we left there knowing we had the spine of a very cool story! So then we chose creators that best represented the various eras of the comic and proceeded to tour the country, the world in fact, sitting down and chatting with some of the world’s finest comic book talent. It’s been a pure joy to be honest. And we do actually have almost 37 years of footage backed up for special features!
Was there anyone who you couldn’t get or who refused to be filmed that you felt would have given a unique perspective on the comic?
Yes, it’s a shame that Alan Moore is not involved, being one of the most celebrated of 2000AD’s creators. We asked, and he politely declined to be interviewed, so that was that. It seems that Alan, along with a few other people would rather discuss their current projects, which I completely understand and accept. It’s a shame that some voices are missing from the conversation but in my opinion the documentary itself doesn’t suffer for it too badly.
What did you think of the new Dredd movie and do you think that it helped interest in the project?
I enjoyed Dredd very much! I love the way they resisted having Dredd deliver some James Bond shitty line after he pushes Ma Ma off the ledge and instead just says “yeah”. That felt very 2000AD. And I think what’s great about it is that no matter how you judge a film’s success, what you’re left with there is a cool, hard little film that will last forever to engage & inspire people long into the future.
As far as helping us in the production of ‘Future Shock‘, the film has now become an important chapter in the 2000AD story, so we have covered it as such. It seems that right now there are a fair few 2000AD projects being discussed, a potential Dredd sequel is always in the news, not least the celebrated period the comic itself is having and doing well in the US now, as well as our film so yeah I think it’s a good time to be involved in it all. It feels good, like there’s a real buzz around 2000AD right now!
Will there be some sort of DVD or Blu-Ray with extras that didn’t fit in at some point?
I hope so! There was a 3hr40 work print at one stage of the edit! We interviewed over 40 people for the doc ranging from 30 mins to a few hours each. There is TONS of stuff man, and if I was a fan waiting for this doc to be released, I’d want to see all those interviews too! We are looking for distributors right now so I hope that we can get all that stuff out to the hardcore fans one day.
So finally, some fun, personal questions for you: who are your favourite writer / artist / characters from the comic? You can choose more than one if it’s too hard a choice
Agh! That’s a killer…
As a writer surely John Wagner‘s contribution to the world of comics is second to none. The sheer amount of crazy ideas, sci-fi prescience, comedy and deep political satire in Dredd alone represents a staggeringly high quality body of work. Also I personally think that Peter Milligan is one of the most underrated comic writers, it was a joy to interview him.
I agree, Wagner’s high turnover and hit rate are incredible and few can write Dredd’s dialogue like he can, something I think they got pretty spot on in the film version.
Artist? Hm, I’d probably say Steve Dillon drew my favourite Dredd, with that crazy jawline! I love artists that can communicate story with very few lines, and for me Cam Kennedy & Mike McMahon are masters of that kind of simplicity.
As for the strips, I really love Slaine for a couple of reasons: firstly because I used to skip over it before I realised how fantastic it was! I couldn’t get with the whole Conan thing or the magic or any of that stuff at all and then I actually read one, and it was brilliant, and of course I had to go back and raid my own back issues because they were so addictive! I love Pat’s crazy battle cursing, “I’ll bathe my axe in your blood” and all that stuff. And of course Mike McMahon‘s art on the ‘Sky Chariots’ story is breathtaking – that one page with the ships in formation and the eagle bringing a fish to the nest in the foreground. Genius.
But, Nemesis the Warlock is the one that has remained my favourite over the years. Totally unique, I have never read or seen anything like it. Pat Mills is just letting it all go with that book. It’s brutal and disgusting, epic, violent, funny and just fucking cool all at the same time. All the artists that drew Nemesis over the years needed to have such a bizarre unique style to make it work, but of them all I do think that Kevin O’Neill is one of the most important comic artists of all time. The designs for the characters and that world of Termight are unbelievable, where does it all come from?! Just brilliant, brilliant stuff. Credo!
I agree on that one too, there’s no one like Kevin out there and Pat has created so many memorable characters over the years as well as helping start the comic obviously. Well, I’m really looking forward to the premiere and, as a fan of the comic for 35+ years it’s clear that it’s in absolutely safe hands here.
Review of the UK premiere
I saw the film last night (after having refused a preview before the interview above as I didn’t want to spoil the occasion) and all I can say is that my suspicions were correct, Paul and his team were absolutely the people for the job. They managed to fit a huge number of creators and history into the film and yet cover a lot of ground in a very entertaining way.
Pat Mills is the binding element which, along with John Wagner and Alan Grant, is how it should be being that they where there at the start and are still writing for the comic today. The comics industry in the UK in the 70′s is covered and the scene set, the troubles that beset them all gone into, the ‘dark years’ of the 90′s and the saving of the publication when Rebellion stepped in to buy them are touched on too. They don’t pull punches and it definitely isn’t all a love-fest, the original Dredd movie is given short thrift as are the copyists who have ripped off characters wholesale.
One of the highlights of the film is Mills railing against ex-editor Dave Bishop, who readily admits his failures in a smart bit of tit for tat editing. There are many glimpses behind the scenes of what went on, how rights were bandied about with little renumeration and creators seen as just grist for the mill. All this is wrapped up in glorious artwork to remind you of exactly why the comic is such a British institution and the rock and synth-heavy soundtrack is perfect to underscore the whole thing. A few creators are conspicuous by their absence – Alan Moore refused to speak (no surprise there) as did Mike McMahon and, despite several instances of their artwork there was little mention of Ian Gibson, Ron Smith, Simon Bisley, Massimo Belardinelli, Brett Ewins or Steve Dillion.
But considering they had to fit three and a half decades into 1hr 45 minutes they did a wonderful job and the abiding message that came across is that 2000AD is a very British institution that once kicked against the status quo and has now become a part of popular culture. Tellingly Mills reveals that the nearest role model at the time was the French anthology Metal Hurlant and that he has always been loath to see the comic as a stepping stone to America. The Q&A afterwards with director Paul, producers Sean and Helen alongside Mills and Kevin O’Neill was further illuminating and I left happy that the legacy of the comic had been faithfully and entertainingly laid out for both fans and newbies alike.
The next showing is at the Leeds Thought Bubble Festival on November 15th where they’ll have a Q&A afterwards too. Follow their Future Shock blog here.