Interview with Pat Mills

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After a showing of the documentary ‘Future Shock! The Story of 2000 AD’ at the Edinburgh film festival, I was lucky enough to have the chance to interview the creator of 2000 AD himself, the iconic Pat Mills. Best known for his stories such as ABC Warriors and Nemesis the Warlock, he founded 2000 AD back in 1977, and is one of Britain’s best known comic book writers and editors today.

LS: A nice light question to start with. How do you feel about your nickname ‘the Godfather of British Comics’?
Yeh that’s pretty cool. I think I do have a paternalism towards British comics that’s fairly unique. I don’t want particularly to work for America. I actually like working for Britain and I want British comics to survive, so that’s probably given me that Godfather attitude.

LS: Who have been your favourite artists and writers to work with over the years?
Favourite artist, that’s so difficult. It has to be Kevin O’Neill on Nemesis because Kevin and I both share a common agenda in as much as we both hate Catholicism with a ferocious passion, and to have someone pay us to stay out of a padded cell is quite good! In terms of writers, I would say my ex writing partner John Wagner, because we started writing together in Dundee in a garden shed. Two feisty males writing comics in a garden shed, it’s a wonder we’re still alive! I very much liked his early Judge Dredd, which reflected the dark comedy which was very much part of our experience in that garden shed.

LS: Continuing on from that are there any artists or writers that you would like to work with that you haven’t had the chance to yet?
Oh god yes. I would have loved to have worked with Jock, he’s a great 2000 AD artist. I’ve never worked with Colin McNeil, who is another great artist, and that’s just within 2000 AD. Outside that there’s many more.

LS: The Future Shock documentary covers this, but were there any points in your career that you thought 2000 AD might not survive?
‘The Dark Ages’ section of the documentary covers this, which I was very happy to see acknowledged. Imagine you create something and it’s jogging along nicely for 10-15 years, and then suddenly they do something different with it, something weird, and it’s like don’t mess with the formula! In this case you had someone trying to turn 2000 AD into loaded magazine. Someone has to protect 2000 AD, it has an identity. If you have it being turned into something it’s not you have to speak up or you can chose not to. In the documentary a number of people said they regretted not speaking up. If you create something you don’t expect to be running it from a distance but expect to have some kind of connection, otherwise you are deserting your roots and saying it’s nothing to do with me, and I don’t think that’s right.

LS: A fan question for you now. If all but one of the ABC Warriors were wiped out forever, who would be the first to die and who would be the only survivor?
That’s a tough one! I suppose it would have to be last one in first one out as that’s fairly diplomatic, so that would be a character called Zed because he’s not as developed as the others. The last to survive would have to be the founding member Hammerstein.

As a footnote, something I’ve been developing recently for intros for collections is how I imagine who the actor would be, who the voice I hear in my head is. For ABC Warriors: Hammerstein – Burt Lancaster, Blackblood – Doctor Strangelove, Joe Pineapples – Robert Mitchum and for Ro-Jaws Bob Hoskins.

LS: Will Nemesis ever make a return?
That would be down to Kevin and I don’t see any prospect of that happening, which is sad because Kevin loves Nemesis even more than I do, but it’s not economically viable.

LS: Writing for British comics compared to writing for American comics, how did you feel about that?
A lot of people had a reservation about America, a sense that they had to. Any of my readers that know Martial Law know that I don’t like superheroes because they’re not subversive. Scotland is the home of subversive comics. There was a lot of subversion when working for DC Thomson, which was important to me, John Wagner and Alan Grant. America doesn’t have that. I have to wake up and feel subversive. I think I’m an adopted Scot because this feels much more like my spiritual home than London!

LS: Which characters, if any, do you wish that you’d created?
I created so many in 2000 AD, but elsewhere, I’m very influenced by French comics. 2000AD is so influenced by its French roots. A lot of great science fiction owes its roots to the French Culture. For example, Blade Runner, they’re all French artists that Ridley Scott was drawing on.

LS: Which comic did you most enjoy writing?
PM: Inside 2000 AD it would be Nemesis, and outside of 2000 AD it would be Charley’s War. Charley’s War is the most subversive of all the stories.

LS: Do you think it’s been that subversion that has been the success of 2000 AD?
It’s a combination of so many things, great art work, subversion and the principles of storytelling or ‘the formula’. For example Halo Jones, she’s a vulnerable female who is evolving but she’s a heroine so we feel sympathy for her and we identify with her. Another universal rule is the hero or heroine has to be proactive, if they’re a victim you’re in trouble. The rules that seem so evident to all of us aren’t always evident to writers. I had to ask as editor ‘where’s your hero, what’s he doing, is he being proactive?’ and a lot of them don’t get it. The hero or heroine has got to be sympathetic and you have to care about the character and what will happen to them. However, if the artwork is amazing, writers can cruise on the backs of that and readers will forgive it.

LS: What are your future and upcoming plans?
PM: I still do loads of stuff for 2000 AD, including a story with Simon Bisley which is at a very early stage. I’m exploring a lot of digital possibilities and what works and why. It is new territory, but it means you’re free from the tyranny of ‘the men in suits’ and you have no-one to blame but yourself. The same thing happened with 2000 AD. I’d seen the alternatives and knew what was pushing reader’s buttons. An example, I knew Judge Dredd wouldn’t be popular to begin with, whereas M.A.C.H 1 was hugely popular because of the ‘super agent’ thing, which 2000 AD has never quite got right. Science fiction is easier.