The Story of 2000 AD charts how the comic came to be, how it has survived for 37 years, and how it continues to be an innovator and game-changer in both comics and the wider cultural world beyond.
It feels surprising that no one has attempted to chart the history of 2000AD in a documentary before, given its legacy, but with its current upward trajectory and the devotion that it inspires (especially in the wake of the critically acclaimed but commercially melancholy film of Judge Dredd) it’s probably the best time to make a feature with a positive outlook.
Future Shock! is the work of Paul Goodwin, whose main task appears to have been assembling a wealth of talent to interview. With the exception of Alan Moore, Mark Millar and Garth Ennis, the big names are all present, which means you get to see Neil Gaiman sitting in front of an apparently colour coded bookcase, Bryan Talbot enthusiastically miming someone being impaled on a sword, John Wagner being quietly laconic and Pat Mills still raging entertainingly with constantly refuelled ire. I hope that this documentary becomes available with an extra feature that just consists of the entire Pat Mills interview in one go, because it’s essential viewing. The only reason it feels like he might be slightly pulling his punches slightly here is because he’s already expressed his opinions elsewhere. Still, seeing him speak unchecked, irrespective of if you agree with him, is a glorious sight.
The documentary is mainly comprised of talking heads with the occasional photo or illustration (with animated sequences by Zebra Post, soundtracked by Justin Greaves – the title sequence alone is ludicrously exciting), and as such it’s Mills, Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra, Dave Gibbons and Kevin O’Neill who lead us through the early days and the state of the late Seventies UK comics’ industry. While it seems to be focusing on the violent side of the comics, it’s also the funniest section of the documentary as the writers and artists talk of the dismissive reactions of their peers and publishers. O’Neill in particular does a fine line in withering bemusement. Wagner is drier than a snake quoting Dave Allen routines, though there’s the occasional glint in his eye.
While facing out-of-touch reactions from outside, the documentary doesn’t shy away from problems with 2000AD’s way of doing business. Neil Gaiman says fuck a lot more than usual while recalling the stipulations of the writers contracts – that any strips and ideas would become property of the magazine – and what this means for comics like The Ballad Of Halo Jones, and indeed for the future of the magazine. It’s at this point the magazine covers the British invasion of American comics, and the comic stylings that would later shape the Vertigo imprint, leaving 2000AD short of talent as people left seeking higher remuneration and more rights. The conclusion is that you couldn’t have Vertigo without 2000AD, but whether or not Vertigo would exist if 2000AD had a different policy on author ownership is subtly addressed. Certainly Ian Edgington’s comments beg the question on how sensible this idea is.
The coverage of the 90s is less in-depth, but equally doesn’t shy away from the negative. Touching on events such as the Summer Offensive or specific infamous poster campaigns, few positives from the era are really mentioned (The America arc, for example, from the early 90s spin off Judge Dredd Megazine is mentioned as a high point), and Pat Mills somehow manages to ramp his scorn up a notch. Former editor Dave Bishop is contrite and pithy, dealing well with difficult questions, and you get the impression he’s been tired since about 1997. Andy Diggle, on the other hand, is calm talking about his time as editor, a man who knows all too well that he’s about to be intercut with clips of someone slagging him off. While this backdrop is appropriate for soul-searching about the problems with the magazine, it does mean the documentary feels a bit bottom-heavy, and could stand to focus on the positives of recent years in more detail. As it is, some great titles flit by quickly, even if their creators do get a chance to speak about the recent resurgence under Rebellion.
The most positive talk is of the magazine’s legacy, its influence on cinema and comics, which comes to a conclusion about the best cinematic adaptation of Judge Dredd you might not be expecting, but in terms of characters and strips only really focuses on its most famous creation.
At 100 minutes long, though, it’s already stocked full and you can see why Goodwin might choose to err on the side of mentioning everything but focussing on the more famous and influential names from the magazine’s earlier period. As a result, though, a basic knowledge of the magazine’s history is a help for some of the incidents that get skimmed. Fortunately, I have one of those, and so overall I really enjoyed Future Shocks! It isn’t afraid to challenge its subject and through its editing and selection of interviewees manages to make a straightforward talking heads documentary consistently entertaining.
Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Pat Mills and John Wagner are amongst the talking heads in the first full documentary about the mighty 2000AD.