A Coffee with… Pat Mills at the London Book Fair! Part 3

CA - LBF - PM 3 We were lucky enough to catch 2000 AD creator Pat Mills for a coffee at the London Book Fair and got to chat about so much great stuff we had to split it into three articles! If you want the first it’s here and you can click through to part 2 here. Otherwise read onwards on what we chatted on Slaine, Celtic consciousness and myth, and comics and Scotland!

 

THE FALL AND THE RISE OF 2000 AD

There’s nothing particularly controversial in suggesting 2000 AD went through a problem patch in the 90’s but I mention here only because of something particular Pat says of what went wrong. “It lost a new generation of kids. It became too cool. It’s a reminder that your boss should be a 12-13 year old kid”.

I really like that. I hadn’t been a regular reader of 2000 AD for a little while when all this was happening, instead having followed the British Invasion and devouring every Vertigo title a student budget could allow. Then, during the holidays, I’d touch base with friends from home and we’d all be lending the comics we had and someone else didn’t, more or less covering the entire Vertigo line between us, eclectic new discoveries, and select titles from mainstream Marvel and DC besides. But I remember, of the latter, one friend turning up with a kid Flash comic called Impulse by someone called Mark Waid. Well Mark is now one of my top rated writers but at the time I all but held the offered comic by finger and thumb and said:

‘What is this? CA - LBF - PM - Impulse
‘Impulse. It’s just a good straightforward superhero comic. I like it because it’s fun.
It was pretty good I discovered when I’d worked through everything else which I’d been leant – actually it was refreshing after it.
I mention this here, having mentioned it to Pat, because it seems more than applicable – along with Pat’s sense of what went wrong at 2000 AD – to what’s happened to Marvel and DC over the last decade. There’ve been some astonishing high-concept, hugely involved stories from the architects of Marvel – but it’s just not what I’m looking for these days. If I want that I’ll pick up something from Vertigo or Image.

 

CA - LBF - PM - Tharg
* Tharg the Mighty, editor of 2000 AD (Pat in 1977)
‘Don’t make 2000 AD Vertigo’ was in fact what Pat the original Tharg-slash-editor * was trying to tell the then editor and what he put to me. Also: ‘The trick is to make 2000 AD more 2000 AD.’ Play to your strengths in other words – but then there’s the thing about writing for 12-13 year olds.
Something I’ve heard from more than a few commentators is Give the kids their comics back: I understand why but I have to disagree. When attempting to politely challenge people who actually do think comics are just for kids I note how the medium of film involves age ratings but not just to explain that comics are a medium not a genre, or that there are levels of sophistication and graphic content within different ones. I mention it because if you ignored a film because it was for a younger bracket than your own age you’d have deprived yourself of the opportunity of watching the original Star Wars films, some of those wonderful Disney cartoons (within which are more than a few jokes for the adult audience), and then many superhero films you’d actually enjoy.

*
So it’s not Give the kids their comics back: It’s write great comics that everyone can enjoy. Write for a PG audience but push things as far as you care to. Don’t try to turn every superhero story into a high-concept Vertigo-style drama. But write great superhero stories for Marvel and DC and write great, subversive, warped and mind-bending science fiction for 2000 AD.

2000 AD’s survival, Pat feels, is ‘a tribute to the readers’: another magazine would have collapsed during those days but enough fans hung in there until things turned around. There’s some irony in this because the enduring demographic would likely be somewhere between twenty and forty at that point rather than your boss of 12-13. But aside from the younger audience there’s a 12-13 year old somewhere in all of us.
CA - LBF - PM - Tharg today
Tharg today (Matt Smith)
Either way Pat seems very happy, along with everyone else, with what long-time Tharg Matt Smith has been doing with his creation. “He’s unique as an editor. He doesn’t get emotionally involved with the creators.” I take what Pat’s saying to mean that Matt does the job of putting together a great comic on schedule rather than trying overly to impose his vision on the creators who contribute to it.

 

ON SIMON BISLEY AND MAVERICK ARTISTS

I just have to ask about Simon Bisley. Simon Bisley raised the art bar to rungs that no-one even knew were up there, bringing Slaine to full-colour life in jaw dropping airbrushed visuals. Everyone was just blown away. Oh and he drew exceptionally large breasts (not something our teenage selves would have raised any kind of issue with).

But I wanted to know if something I heard just after Mr Bisley left Slaine was true: an artist / editorial debate something along the lines of:

‘Simon we love your art.’
CG - Ti - Jul - 13 Coins
Simon Bisley’s latest: 13 Coins from Titan Comics
‘Cheers.’
‘Only… the breasts. Could you tone them down a bit?’
‘I’ve got a breast fetish. I draw big breasts.’
Repeat twice to coda.
‘Simon we love your art but if you don’t tone down the breasts we’re going to have to let you go.’
‘I draw big breasts.’
‘We’ll have to let you go.’
‘No problem.’

*
It still makes me smile and from Pat’s response, while not pretending to know or remember anything definite of this, a sequence of conversations of this nature in no respect sounds unlikely.

‘Simon’s a maverick,’ Pat says. ‘Readers like a maverick. Maverick’s bring something of their own to a story.’ I must have laughed out loud when Pat tells me that he and Kevin O’Neill (very much a maverick artist) would try to ‘out-subversive’ one another on Nemesis the Warlock.

CA - LBF - PM - Nemesis - Kevin O-Neill He then mentions one of his forgotten creations ‘Birthday Box’ who was essentially pinhead but with candles. Yes, quite. The artist they’d chosen for it, doubtless talented in their own right, was more of a U.S. style storyteller and the impact was lost. On the other hand Pat acknowledges (with a smile) that readers do have a limit, and that ‘maybe we pushed things too far with John Hicklenton on Nemesis the Warlock’. CA - LBF - PM - Nemesis & Torquemada - John Hicklenton
Kevin O’Neill on Nemesis the Warlock
John Hicklenton on Nemesis the Warlock

*
There’s a sad moment – John passed a few years ago. But we’re both smiling when we discuss his art because I and friends of the same age certainly remember the astonishing and grotesque visuals of that era of Nemesis: they were insane even by 2000 AD’s standards though it’s far from displeasing to remember them. Other art on Slaine and Ace Trucking Co. – examples Pat gives – were balanced spot on between comfort and discomfort.

Either way: ‘We need those disturbing artists,’ Pat tells me. I don’t disagree. He could actually be talking about 2000 AD itself. CA - LBF 16 - PM2
It’s there to entertain and also to disturb – to entertain by disturbing in many respects. To take chances, to be unpredictable, to subvert and challenge the status quo, knocking your thoughts out of kilter along with your expectations.
It’s something Pat’s made a career of.
Many thanks to Pat for his time at the LBF – more on which you can read on our [imminent] coverage of his panel The Graphic Galaxy and others below…

*****

More…

General coverage with links to feature articles – The London Book Fair 2016 [To be released] LBF 2016 collectively
A Coffee with Abaddon & Solaris at the London Book Fair…
Women in Comics: Is the Graphic Novel Industry Failing to Recognise Female Creators? Panel at LBF 2016
A Coffee with… Deborah Install at the London Book Fair!
A Coffee with… Pat Mills at the London Book Fair: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3!
The Graphic Galaxy: Science Fiction in Comics – A Panel at LBF 2016 [To be released]
A Coffee with Hodder Editor Anne Perry at The London Book Fair!