Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!

The Real Space Spinner!

Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!
2000AD And Judge Dredd:
The Secret History...

by Pat Mills
Millsverse Books
ISBN: 9780995661233

Pat Mills, it turns out, was something of an influence on my thinking at a certain age, although the penny only fully dropped on that a year or two ago when he started following me on my Twitter timeline. I can’t remember why he followed me but I suspect it’s either because I read and reviewed Steve MacManus’ book The Mighty One - My Life Inside The Nerve Centre (reviewed here) which I really enjoyed or because I reviewed the documentary Future Shock - The Story Of 2000AD (reviewed here). Either way, he was the one responsible for what has always been known as ‘the galaxy’s greatest comic’ in our house and, although it wasn’t always his stories which were my favourites (some of them definitely were though... like the Judge Dredd epic The Curses Earth), it’s him I’ve got to thank for one of the great parts of my childhood.

So, let me deviate here and throw myself into this for a minute or two. If you are a regular reader of my blog, I apologise for covering any old ground. When I was 9 years old, in 1977, me and my dad spotted the first issue of a brand new British comic in newsagents which boasted all new hyper-thrilling adventures of one of my dad’s favourite comic book characters when he was a kid... Dan Dare. Also it had a free Space Spinner... which was an enticement that’s not nearly as exciting as it sounds. So my dad bought it and we both liked it a lot (not so much the Space Spinner). Now, I was already into comics with American titles like Shazam, Batman, Superman, Spiderman and Casper The Friendly Ghost... but in terms of British comics, well, I regularly read The Beezer (which is a comic I still miss to this day). When I was recovering from a horrendous car collision which sent two cars careening off onto the pavement towards me, nearly ending my life, one of the comics my folks brought to me in hospital was Action (something which was also a product of the mind of Pat Mills, it seems) but I never got around to reading any future issues of that one.

2000AD, a comic created by Pat and most famous, perhaps, for the inclusion of another of his co-creations from Issue 2... that would be Judge Dredd... got its hooks into both my father and I straight away. My dad, in fact, decided we would have it delivered by the newsagent every Sunday, a day on which we tended to stay in bed a bit later in those days until about 9am (I really should look into resurrecting that habit). So our regular Sunday morning would be... the comic would come through the letter box around 8am. I would rush down to grab it and read it in bed while my dad made tea. I would then bring it into my parent’s bedroom so my dad could read it and then, of course, we’d also have something to talk about. Most of the time our opinions would be in agreement on the best strips... although my dad liked both Rogue Trooper and Strontium Dog a  lot more than I. Our favourite stories were Harlem Heroes, Robo Hunter, Ace Trucking and, of course, the greatest literary experience of my life, The Ballad Of Halo Jones.

Well, if you are like me and had (or perhaps still have, I stopped reading and buying the comic sometime in the 1990s when it seemed to be a bit ‘meh’) a relationship with the comic and its rich array of characters, you will possibly be interested in this book, Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! 2000AD And Judge Dredd: The Secret History... which does all it says on the tin and more besides. While it’s possibly not as detailed as I’d like, it is both informative and, well, because it’s Pat Mills, written in a very entertaining and easy to understand manner. It’s also very outspoken about the shabby treatment the British comics industry has inflicted on the creative forces which bring the money in to the publishers and, rightly so. As I’ve read his tweets over the last few years, I’ve realised that, quite besides the point that he is a stand up guy (it would seem to me... as much as you can judge anybody by what they write) he is also quite honest in his unmasking and revealing of the very real villains of the publishing world and the injustices done in the trade.

And, putting all that stuff aside... there’s some amazing things covered in the book which, like a fine wine, kind of whets the appetite and makes you wonder if there’s anymore. For instance, he talks about the lack of working class heroes in fiction at the time and suggests that this could well be a deliberate thing, citing the famous characters written by Ian Fleming, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and John Buchan as examples of a tendency to write about upper class figures of respect as a way of enforcing the way that class is perceived. Now, I’d never thought of James Bond as an upper class character before - I like him but I’ve always thought of him as a kind of highly paid thug but, oh yeah, ‘highly’ paid... yeah, okay, this sounds about right then. I’m going to have to re-evaluate some of this stuff so that’s a plus point in Mills’ favour right there... I realised very early on when I started this, that it wasn’t going to be just another passive read (thank goodness).

He talks about a variety of subjects of interest to old school readers of 2000AD (at least... maybe to some younger readers too, a cautionary tale) and I learned a lot of things such as the very existence of people like Doug Church, who would draw stick figure layouts of the pages of the comic for the early artists to emulate because he knew exactly how to design a dramatic and eye catching page. I also learned about such things as Mills discovering (with a very slight push) the great comic artist Simon Bisley (who was working on a building site before he gave him a break), the very first time a character (in a completely different comic he was working on, Valiant) used a belly wheel which would later be a semi-regular feature of Judge Dredd and, also, how he conceived some of the early covers as ‘re-appropriating Lichtenstein’... I’m not sure I can explain that last completely and do justice here but, have a read of this book, it’s fascinating stuff.

Other delights include the real evil people of his childhood, on whom he based villains like Torquemada of the Nemesis The Warlock strip, the development and the reasons why he thinks the excellent sister comic Crisis failed after thirty odd issues, the creation of Slaine, the two times he resurrected Dan Dare (first for 2000AD and then for the new version of Eagle) and, well lots of things I’d forgotten about, like a brief mention of the comic Revolver. It also gets very interesting when he starts talking about the failure of a whole batch of characters and potential film/TV shows which never materialised... and the reason why that was the case.

And I also learned certain things about his interest in the occult and belief, from his personal experience,  in certain things extra terrestrial... which he very lightly touches on and is possibly a brave admission from someone of his stature... but I get the feeling he’s just an honest guy so, why wouldn’t he admit stuff like that. Something he quotes here, “If you take an interest in the Unknown, it will take an interest in you.” reminded me of why I stopped my research into alien abduction stories about twenty years ago... I was losing too much sleep from all that stuff and, well, anyway I stopped looking into that subject.

One thing I do definitely remember, which originated from Mr. Mills, was the introductory try out appearance of Nemesis The Warlock in Terror Tube. I remember being fascinated by it at the time but not really understanding the concept all that well. It would take a while for me to get into the full story arcs when they were published but I got there in the end. Another thing I definitely do remember is the amount of pain he caused me after the publication of the second issue of 2000AD. Pain in the bath tub, where no amount of water would wrest those damned ‘free gift’ Biotronic stickers from my arms, legs and forehead. I guess I learned something that day.

Three things I came away with from reading this... firstly, Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! 2000AD And Judge Dredd: The Secret History... by Pat Mills is an absolutely fascinating and interesting tome and I’m glad I took the time to finally grab a copy. Secondly, I need to take a look at a movie adaptation of one of his comic strips I’ve not read, Accident Man, at some point and, thirdly, I need to look at some of the other stuff he’s written besides just his comic book and graphic novel work. There are a lot of pointers in a kind of appendix section at the back of this book with some interesting links and further reading. And if you want to see what he’s been up to lately, including the launch of his new comic book Space Warp, then get yourself over to millsverse.com and check the guy out... he seems to be one of those rare ‘forces for good’ in the world and seems like a genuinely nice person. Either way, give this book a read if you remember the early days of 2000AD with something like the affection that I do, for sure.
Cover illustration by Alex Ronald.

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