A Zarjaz 40 Years!: A Celebration Of 2000AD

Borag Thungg, Earthlets!

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“Welcome to the galaxy’s greatest comic: a subtle blend of thrills, some old, some new, all of them zarjaz. 2000AD: thrills from the future at an old-fashioned price!” – Tharg The Mighty. 

“It’s wild! It’s sensational! It’s your future!”

In the last week of February 1977, the first zarjaz issue of 2000AD was unleashed on an unsuspecting planet. It contained three stories and a free gift – a ghafflebette Space Spinner! – attached to the front cover.

Nobody had any idea that it would not only become a sensational hit, but dramatically transform the British comics industy. Back then, you see, the average life expectancy of new comics lasted no more than “a few issues.” Up until that point, there had been no market for SF in the UK comics market, so – oddly enough – it was automatically assumed that 2000AD would fare no better…

Each issue – or Prog as it is affectionately known – came adorned with the legend: “In Orbit Every Monday.” But more intriguingly, the Editor happened to be Tharg The Mighty: a green-skinned Betelgeusian responsible for delivering these weekly doses of “thrill-power,” and regarded plastic cups as his fave delicacy; Betelgeusian phrases made regular appearances in each Prog.

Published by IPC Magazines, it was aimed at young boys who craved something other than the usual “war and football fare”. Studying it’s awesomeness down the years, what is most striking is its formidable – and consistent – array of writing and artistic talent – cheekily referred to as “the droids” – who would garner international acclaim and go on to develop projects for Marvel and DC Comics.

In the beginning, it looked rather tame: Dan Dare – the Pilot of the Future – was more commonly associated with Eagle comic, while Mach 1 was a direct copy of the Six Million Dollar Man

Ironically, another sci-fi comic released in 1978: Starlord – produced on better quality paper – enjoyed higher sales figures. However, production costs meant that 2000AD survived, and Starlord disappered after only 22 issues. Strangely enough, Strontium Dog and Ro-Busters were transferred from Starlord and became some of 2000AD’s most popular stars.

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“Dredd to Control! Some kind of ruckus going on, Hank Wangford Underblock! Better get me a Catch Wagon!” – Judge Dredd. 

Can remember reading the comic at school – 1984 was a classic year for 2000 AD. Not sure who brought the copies in, but they were widely circulated around the classroom.

Although the comic’s most popular character was Judge Dredd, who made his debut patrolling the ultra-mean streets of Mega-City Onein Prog 2 – my Vinglop Hudsock (reading enjoyment) always concentrated on the exploits of the A.B.C (Atomic*Bacterial*Chemical) Warriors such as Hammerstein, Deadlock – and perhaps the COOLEST comic book character EVER – Joe PineapplesRogue Trooperthe GI (genetic infantryman) roaming the Morokk desert of Nu-Earth, in the eternal future war between Norts and Southers with his helmet, backpack and gun containing bio-chips of his three fallen buddies, brilliantly illustrated by Cam Kennedy.

And DON’T exclude the extraordinary awesomeness in the form of Nemesis The Warlock, wonderfully created by Brother Mills and Brother O’Neill and extolled the virtues:

“Be pure, be vigilant, behave!”

At a time when sci-fi was still considered as Boy’s Own fare, it is amazing to reflect that part of its innovation lay in its impressive range of strong, female characters including: Halo Jones, Venus Bluegenes, Durham Red, Tiffany Rex and of course Judge Anderson: Head of Mega-City One’s Psi-Division. 

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“Military fuzz, dammit. Gotta move. I ain’t gonna be shot by my own side… Sorry to disappoint you, fuzzballs!” – Rogue Trooper.  

Also that year, in London, just round the corner from Grandma’s gaff, a newsagent had a half-price box. Therein lay Progs: 365 and 370 – my very first purchases of thrill-power!

Having just retrieved them from my files – the covers have inevitably yellowed and the edges are crumpled – they now sit in pride of place on the desk beside me.

Bizarrely, one of the comic’s most ensuring characters was Slaine: a Celtic barbarian – with its delirious mix of dragons and sorcery this strip looked so incongruous, but was well-received all the same. Another script-hit from Pat Mills – does it come as a surprise to learn that he is one of my all-time favourite writers (in any medium)?

Both these Progs were graced by one of my very favourite characters: Strontium Dog: the adventures of Johnny Alpha, the mutie bounty hunter and his “norm” partner: Wulf Sternhammer. Featuring the terrific artwork of Carlos Ezquerra, it was honoured in this Post: 

And – grok! Had almost forgotten D.R. & Quinch. My most immediate memory to flood back from Prog 365 was this hilarious pastiche of Hollywood written by Alan Moore – yes! That Alan Moore.

“Man, this was a problem of mind-liquefying majorness. The script had about fifty-eleven-hundred pages. Of this, eight words were completely readable. These were ‘Oranges’ in the title, and ‘Close the curtains, Geoffrey, I’m amphibious,’ which was right at the end. To be perfectly frank, man, I wasn’t even 100% sure about ‘amphibious'” – D.R. Dobbs. 

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Torquemada: “Only I stand for order! And discipline! Especially discipline!”

Nemesis: “Basically I stand for having a good time…”

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“Some day soon we’ll all be feeding the worms… so why waste time playing heroes when we could be killing for kicks and riches?” – Thrax. 

And then there was Bad Company: a weird, but wonderful, future-war tale created by Pete Milligan, Brett Ewins and Jim McCarthy. Rather than focus predictably, and monotonously, on the horrors of war, this irresistible classic centered on its absurdities.

It offered a truly bizarre roster of characters, including the young wide-eyed narrator: Danny Franks; the mad, monocled mutant Frankenstein’s Monster-like Kano; and my personal fave: the ghoulish dude with the over-sized overcoat: Thrax, distinctive with his long, supercool fringe, and his amusing tendency to call everyone: “turnipheads”.

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“I want to feel alive again. That’s why I keep a heart in my chest locker” – Joe Pineapples.

My days as a Nonscrot (someone who does NOT read it regularly) were numbered. At the end of June 1988, a bolt of unavoidable thrill-power hit me in one newsagent at the end of June 1988 in the form of 2000AD Prog 581 (above). Who doesn’t dig large-taloned dudes with even cooler swords? One excited flick through: and it was immediately purchased.

There then followed a really scrotnig Summer, hunting local comics emporia for the most recent back issues. Having designed a major facelift – new format, new logo – for Prog 555, Tharg The Innovative reinvented the entire package with Prog: 650, adorned with the slogan: “New Thrills! More Colour!”   

With two stints at university, leading eventually to an overseas job, following the galaxy’s greatest comic became virtually impossible. In the last two years whilst working on this blog, re-energizing my taste for SF, my thoughts inevitably slide back to those golden years of 2000ADcan still smell that grotty classroom even now… 

But memories of that classic thrill-power lingers much longer…

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“Don’t want to hurt other Strontium Dogs unless we have to – electro-flare!” – Johnny Alpha.

Months ago, rummaging through the basement of a secondhand bookstore, looking – as is always the way – for something else, my heart leapt as a pile of 2000 AD back issues (from the classic years of 1983 and 1986) emerged at the back of the bottom shelf! 

The biggest problem is: how does one catch up with a quarter-century of Progs? So much thrill-power – so little time…

It is absolutely staggering to think that 2000AD still thrives to this day; it’s constant formula of experimental characters and witty cultural/political refs is hopefully winning new converts. The magic Prog 2000 came out last September, but all the drokks have been reserved especially for this week’s Anniversary Special. It is heartening to see the return of personal fave: Strontium Dog.

And of course, Joe Dredd just had to make a special appearance: shutting down the Prog’s birthday bash, disapproving of such a “seditious freak-out weirdo trashzine.” Hey Joe, what’s wrong with that? Don’t be a Grexnix, old man! This Squaxx Dek Thargo used to create and edit his own trashzines back in his juve-days, y’know! If anything, you should complain that today’s droids have failed to offer a Space Spinner or suchlike with this Prog…

Quaequam Blag!

As Tharg himself said: “2000AD: it’s not a comic… it’s an attitude!” 

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Splundig Vur Thrigg!

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4 thoughts on “A Zarjaz 40 Years!: A Celebration Of 2000AD

  1. Great post, Brad! I love your discovery in the basement of that secondhand bookstore. Those heart-leaping moments are the best.
    “Be pure, be vigilant, behave!” This is an excellent life motto.

  2. This story sounds incredible. And I had NO IDEA this is where Judge Dredd originated! I’m learning and having fun – good times :). As I read it I wondered, do you think kids today are regularly forming these sort of deep attachments to the comics/books they read? At the risk of sounding 1,000+ years old, there is SO MUCH vying for their attention. Streaming services provide shows whenever they want them (no waiting for the good TV to be on and filling the time until then with other exciting things). Social media keeps them constantly connected to not only their friends but the world at large (no break from news or interaction with others). And their phones/tablets let them access this all the time. I often wonder about the spiritual pressure this can put on kids – this lack of silence. I also wonder if it hurts their ability to fall so beautifully and completely in love with worlds like this. Do they still do it? Do they do it differently? Anyway, this is the unexpectedly deep thoughts your post has left me to ponder! Thanks and great post too!

    • Thank u v much, Michael for your EPIC Comment!
      Yes, it is intriguing to find out what this generation’s attitude(s) r to a wider range of comics/books than ever.
      Wanted to gauge how much of an impact 2000AD (essentially a v British comic) has had on th American market.
      Do kids still do form attachments?Perhaps. Do they do it differently? most likely via a more modern medium
      Thank u for giving me lots to ponder – v much appreciated.
      Cheers!

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