Wednesday, 7 June 2017

In Review - 'Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! 2000AD and Judge Dredd: The Secret History' by Pat Mills.

Review - Be Pure, Be Vigilant.

Written by Pat Mills.

'Through a minefield of imbeciles and chimps.'

It occurs to me these days with worrying regularity that this hobby we hold dear is both being forgotten about by the average Joe and also at the same time being taken advantage of by big business. Like an American being sold Tower Bridge we seemingly throw ourselves into paying to see movies, buying merchandise and waiting with unbridled enthusiasm for the next big tv series.

Global organisations are taking the characters we love, giving them a commercial rub down and booting them in to movies of varying style and substance. As many of my friends (or 'comics lifers' as I like to call them) we are dubious of this bubble and when it is going to burst.

''Cappuccino Comics....'

So. Let's do something that we are often rubbish at doing and plan for the future. Let's plan for when the funkos and pencil case money grabbers back away. Let's plan to make popular and well crafted comics that will support this creative and splendid industry.

So, who do we look to? Who do we pay attention to? May I make a suggestion? This may be either completely groundbreaking (if you are an ignoramus) or the obvious choice (if you have a regular sized brain or better). Let's turn to those editors, writers, artists, letterers and professionals who have succeeded in the past in turning the industry round.

First on that list for me would be Pat Mills. Often called the 'Godfather of British Comics' he remains a veteran with more passion for the medium than a busload of millennials. And if you want an education on how comics can be both good and popular (no that isn't a swear word) then I couldn't recommend his new book more highly. If you have seen or heard Pat give an interview then you can hear the enthusiasm in his voice as he reads this book aloud. A passion for the UK comics scene that is unmatched. Eloquent and knowledgable, this book will knock your teeth out!

Of course we learn from our mistakes and the advice of our elders. Those who fail to get advice are very rarely heard of again. Pat came from the publishing world of the 1970s. Comics creators worked on word counts and thinly fleshed out and generic characters. What Pat did, along with John Wagner, Alan Grant, Kevin O'Neill and others was turn the industry on it's head by connecting with the feel of a nation. Action and followed by 2000AD where turning points in both comics culture and the society they reflected. They dared to have a frenetic hard edged pace and added to it a violently satirical narrative.

When Frank Bough ripped up a copy of Action on the BBC you knew there was a shift happening. Comics were changing and keeping up with the rebellious punk nature of the times. This book is a goldmine of advice. Read it and learn. It is also full of anecdotes that I will guarantee to have you chuckling. On the 2000AD Thrillpower documentary Pat let rip. Hilariously and with authority this book is very much in the same vein. As you read you can see that wry smile on his face and his eloquently energetic style. Pat and those other faces of the time were brave enough to rip up more than a single issue, they changed comics in ways that we all know are still felt here and in America.

This is also a book that is clearly an honest account. Falling between an account and a memoir it will open your eyes to a lot of the shennanigans from 2000AD's rich and long history. A forty years that hasn't always been plain sailing and Pat covers both the good and the bad times. A book that never holds back and a book that will also instruct us how and why comics are made.

'Paddy McGinty's Goat.....'

The story starts in that garden shed in Scotland that Pat and John Wagner shared and moves through to the London of the swinging 1970s when word count was King. The early pages are full of anecdotes about such comics as Hotspur, Valiant, Tammy, Cor!! and and Lion. We hear about individual stories like 'Yellowknife of the Yard', 'Cinderella Spiteful' and 'Boo Peter' (a parody of Blue Peter). Pat compares the comics 'Factory system' of the time as similar to the street scenes in Metropolis. Heads down, working long hours and enslaved by and uncaring overlord.

'Who or what is Judge Dredd.'

When it came to 2000AD this new comic idea fought through some not insubstantial nay sayers to be born with some incredible ideas, art and stories. Laid out her in detail and with no small amount of energy are the early origins of all our favourites. Most especially is the birth of Dredd, a lawman who is now etched iconically into our social and cultural memories he had some significant birthing pains himself. The sculpting and nurturing of the idea is mesmerising and, as far as I know, never gone in to with such detail. Originally envisaged as a parallel to England's last hanging judge and gifted the name of a reggae band of the time this police officer was to undergo some significant reimagining on the run up to Prog 2 and finally his first appearance. 

''Spanish pirate....'

From there Pat covers all the major and original 2000AD characters and how they began. Flesh, Harlem Heroes, M.A.C.H.1, Ro-Busters, Invasion, A.B.C. Warriors..... the list goes on and on. We begin to understand the landscape of the times and reflect upon why and how it has changed. Why one character is popular and one isn't can come down to a number of intriguing factors that I will let you read the book to understand. The section on the creation of Nemesis and Torquemada is delved deeply into, a history that I share with Pat in no small way. What is considered to be by many the Prog's greatest creation has a heartbreaking origin full of abuse and cruelty. You can hear the sadness and honesty in the text when Pat says;

''Nemesis the Warlock was my catharsis. It was my poetry.'

We also hear some excellent stories of those characters who were and still are intrinsic to the scene both in the 1970s and up to and in this more modern period. Creators like Doug Church, Gerry Finley-Day, Tony Skinner, Leo Baxendale, Simon Bisley, Neil Gaiman, Jenny McDade, Alan Moore, Matt Smith and many, many more. Pat champions those that the history books seem to have ignored and talks really touchingly about friends and colleagues over the years. (The Tony Skinner section is worth the cover price all on it's own.) The sometimes fractious relationship between the editor and the creators and the writer and the artist is both telling, shocking and on occasion eye brow liftingly intriguing. (Who were those night time calls from?) 

The narrative doesn't limit itself to the Prog but also to titles that followed. We get the history of Misty, Toxic! and a personal favourite of mine Crisis. Runs that were without a doubt groundbreaking in story and business approaches. Examples to learn from indeed. 

'2000AD was my first experience of fandom.'

Pat makes it clear in all his interviews and especially in this book that he considers the voice of the reader to be very important and also a factor in the creative process. Strips would survive or fail based on readership. He even calls a later chapter 'You are 2000AD.' But what he does do is point out that there is a difference between the average reader who picked a title up in a newsagents to the growth of fandom. An interesting distinction that is explored sensibly.  What this book also does is print the odd letter from fans. I absolutely loved this touch. Letters and emails that Pat has kept for years shows how much this writer cares for those that enjoy and are affected in some way by what he writes.

Yes, I can see that this book will ruffle a few feathers. Would I want it any other way? No, not at all. The history is laid bare by one of the few who knows the truth and more importantly can show us the way forward. I suspect that there will be a few who will turn the pages with trepidation. There have been some mistakes made over the years (Slaine in The Phoenix anyone??) and some creative milestones. All are dealt with unflinchingly. Sharp and Punchy. Bloody Class!

I was mean't to be reading this book with an eye on writing a review but it was so enthralling that I kept forgetting to take notes!!!

If you enjoy British comics, love the characters that they have produced and want to hear some home grown truths then this is the book for you. I read it in a day, and have returned to it a couple more times since. You'll be hard pressed to find a book so revealing.

Now where is that hard copy? I need one for my shelf.

Grab yourself a copy here 

Or follow Pat on Twitter @PatMillsComics or pop over to for details of a physical release and of other books released or in the works.

Edited by the fab Lisa Mills who can be found on Twitter @feistycuffs71

Many thanks for reading.

PS 'MEKOMANIA' When and how!!????

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