Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
When I was a kid growing up in the United Kingdom in the mid-’70s, it seemed like all the comics I read had flamboyant and entirely fictional editorial staff. DC Thomson’s Warlord was purportedly edited by Sir Peter Flint, who was also the lead character in the comic. His nephew Fireball (yeah, I know!) similarly “edited” the publisher’s other action anthology Bullet. Looking back, this tradition was something of an affront. Sure, it seemed like innocent fun and games, but given DC Thomson’s longstanding corporate failure to credit creators by name for their work, it begins to seem more sinister.
I’ve since heard the theory that the art assistants at DC Thomson in Dundee, Scotland, were so scrupulous about whiting out the signatures artists tried to sneak onto their pages because of paranoia that IPC in London would poach their best talents. That had happened before, in 1964, when the great Ken Reid and Leo Baxendale changed sides and caused a massive shift in the balance of power between the Big Two of U.K. comics. Hiding your editorial staff behind fictional identities seems more threatening from the position of adulthood and hindsight: The publisher is saying we can replace you and no-one will even notice! How’s that for job security?
As I grew a little older, I graduated onto the comics published by IPC; they seemed more grown-up, but they were badder, too. Their action anthologies Battle and Action! had been dragged into the search for a scapegoat for the juvenile delinquency that was the big moral panic at the time. I remember reading the first issue of 2000AD at my cousin’s house; it was introduced by another fictional editor, but this one was very different to those in DC Thomson’s comics. He was green. He appeared in photographs, stalking the offices of King’s Reach Tower, terrifying the secretarial staff. (It was clearly a man in a rubber mask and a customized coverall.) Like Flint or Fireball, Tharg was there to cultivate a clubhouse feel, as the reader learned his alien lingo (‘Borag Thungg, Earthlets!’ ‘Zarjaz!’) and backstory, and many long-running in-jokes were born. He was a crazed egotist for starters, allowing for many gags lampooning the dynamic between authoritarian editor and his staff. Other comics were launched with their own figurehead editors, like Starlord or Tornado‘s Big E, who was Dave Gibbons wearing an unconvincing superhero costume. None had Tharg’s staying power, however.
As the years went on, Tharg started to appear in strips in the comic, treating his staff of droids like dirt and combating his perennial enemies, the Dictators of Zrag and the Thrillsuckers. These strips were usually drawn by Carlos Ezquerra, Ian Gibson or Eric Bradbury, but always credited as being written by “TMO,” The Mighty One, i.e. Tharg himself.
The last such strip appeared in 1993, in Prog 841, drawn by Anthony Williams. That was until this week, when the king-sized Prog 2014 came out, featuring a new Tharg strip, “‘Building a Better Comic,” again credited to “TMO,” and again drawn by Anthony Williams. Imagine my surprise when an email arrived a few days ago asking if I would like to interview Tharg. Me, propagate a 36-year old running joke that I have, in my time, declared as one 2000AD readers should have long evolved past? I had my doubts, but I was curious …
ROBOT 6 6: So, Tharg the Mighty, you’ve been the editor of 2000 AD since it began in 1977, and it used to regularly chronicle your adventures. But it’s been quite a while since you last appeared as a character within your own pages – why is that?
Tharg: Tharg may be Mighty but he can also be Humble, Earthlet. These days I prefer to give stories by my art and script droids room to breathe without the pressure of having to compete against my gargantuan adventures. Since the end-of-year issue is always a bumper 100 pages, I thought Prog 2014 would be the perfect time to bring a little Yuletide humility back and show Earthlets something of my life.
So what … gargantuan adventure do you have in store for us mere mortals this time?
Well, I wanted to give Earthlets an insight into how 2000 AD is really created! One would naturally assume it is put together in a windowless open-plan offices by sorrowful sacks of flesh genetically-integrated into their keyboards – but no! I am well known for constructing the greatest artistic and writing talent the comic book industry has ever known, so it’s only fair that I rub everyone else’s noses in it from time to time.
So you still insist all your artists and writers are actually robots?
And they live in a “Nerve Centre”?
Could you describe an average day for one of your “droids”?
Brutal. Bloody. Long.
Could you explain why 2000 AD still has a fictional alien editor?
Fictional? FICTIONAL?! Why, the very impertinence! Be glad I am in a helpful mood, Terran! Every since I arrived on this planet I have recognized that life can sometimes feel dull, difficult, unhappy. Luckily for Earthlets everywhere I decided to bring the white hot fiery flames of Thrill-power to your eyes so that you can feel it burn, BURN into your visual receptors and blow your synapses with tales guaranteed to inspire awe! Barring a brief period during the 1990s, which I don’t like to talk about but which involved some rather pushy little grey men in ghastly suits, I have always stood at the helm of 2000AD’s merry ship to ensure the maximum amount of Thrill-power is delivered every week within recommended safety limits (we don’t want a repeat of the fateful Swindon Exploding Head Incident of 1981 …).
Some of my fellow comic readers have said they’re a little daunted by the sheer number of issues of 2000 AD and Judge Dredd. Is Prog 2014 a good place to start reading?
I’m glad you asked me that, Earthlet. The answer is yes. Yes to the power of a billion. The key thing about 2000 AD is that you can jump in at any point and prior knowledge of stories is not necessary. Consider: my PR droid’s first issue was the one immediately after the major Necropolis epic, my chief editorial droid began reading midway through Alan Moore’s Halo Jones. Uncertainty fuels the imagination and fires up the Thrill-receptors, Earthlet. And now that 2000AD is available day-and-date digital through our webshop and the 2000AD iPad app, its never been easier to make the leap – start reading today!
Why do you call everyone “Earthlet”?
Keep that up, sonny, and you’ll find yourself on the wrong end of a Rigelian Hotshot …