The Middle Ground #10: The Future Is Now – Well, 10 Years Ago, Actually
There are senses of scale that I just can’t quite get my head around. I mean, sure, I get that Marvel and DC are massive corporate monoliths that stride the comics landscape like overproductive Goliaths, leaving Wolverine books and relaunches of beloved pre-Crisis heroes in their wake, but once you get beyond that obvious tier, the comic industry always gets a little blurred for me.
For example: Judging by Diamond’s Previews catalogue, the next three largest publishers would be Dark Horse, IDW and Image, and I’m sure that’s probably right once you track down the volume of releases and sales figures for each publisher. But that doesn’t mean that, every single month, when I look through Previews, I can’t quite shake the feeling that Fantagraphics deserves to be a premiere publisher purely based on the quality of their releases, if that makes sense? Similarly, Boom! Studios often runs alongside IDW in my head, so part of me wonders whether or not they, too, are soon to make the leap to premiere status (especially considering the Disney books, which must sell well for them).
Oddest of all, though, is the fact that in America, 2000AD is probably as well known for printing early work from creators like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan, Jamie Delano, Mark Millar, Alan Davis, Barry Kitson, Sean Philips and many many more (says he, suddenly sounding like someone trying to sell you a compilation album on television in the wee small hours of the morning) than it is for… well, for being 2000AD. The idea that 2000AD can be considered a niche product by comics fans genuinely, seriously, stuns me whenever I think about it, even moreso when I realize that that idea has some legitimacy considering the low sales and audience the title has in the US, because – to me – 2000AD is another Marvel or DC Universe.
For the kid that was me, 2000AD – even though it was only one comic – an equal balance to both Marvel and DC combined when I was growing up; Marvel/DC would take care of the superhero need, and 2000 almost every other genre desire I had. It wasn’t just the frequency or pulpy speed at which each story moved (It’s fascinating to re-read the material now, and see how stripped down and basic some of the stuff is – there’s a real lesson or several in economy in almost any random episode of, say, Strontium Dog for most American superhero writers), but the variety of what you could read in every issue – A month’s worth of 2000AD was the equivalent to five or so American monthlies, but with more intensity and insanity and comedy mixed in, as well.
(One of the often-quoted reasons why both Marvel and DC are considered so valuable as media engines by those who don’t pick up their books every week/month/whenever a trade is released is the depths of their intellectual property library; think about how many times the number of characters Marvel owns was mentioned when Disney bought them, for example. And yet, despite its quiet reputation on this side of the Atlantic, 2000AD is pretty damn impressive in that regard itself – which makes sense when you consider that it’s been running for more than 30 years, with five strips each week and only one strip a permanent fixture in the series (That’d be Judge Dredd – the one everyone knows about). The 2000AD library veers strongly towards science fiction, as befits what started as a sci-fi comic for teenaged boys way back in 1977, but also steps outside its comfort zone with strips like Slaine (fantasy), Big Dave (South Park-esque dark humored social satire that managed to get itself unofficially banned from the series after insulting public figures) or Carver Hale or Caballistics, Inc. (supernatural/horror). There’s a ridiculous wealth of material lying in wait for any movie producers wanting to look into getting their own comic book goldmine, if only they knew to look for it.)
There’ve been various attempts to bring 2000AD over to America, whether it’s the 1980s Quality reprints, DC’s co-publishing deal in the early part of last decade or the announced-but-as-yet-unstarted Judge Dredd deal Dynamite have going on, where new material will be produced as well as reprinting the originals. That last path may be the best way to go; the rhythm and format of 2000AD – especially the early stuff, before collections were really part of the plan – is so unique and unusual that it sometimes overwhelms the genius of the stories themselves. It’d be great if someone could work out how to break 2000AD and all its many characters and stories for the rest of the world, if only because there’s something depressing about so much great work, as stupid and violent and self-mocking as some of it may be, going unnoticed by so many people.