BFI Days Of Fear & Wonder Sci-Fi Season – Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD (2014)
Borag Thungg puny mortals, given that I haven’t crafted a full review for a couple of weeks a thrill power injection was sorely needed for the blog, and I was electrified with inspiration on Tuesday nights inaugural event of the BFI’s intergalactic Days Of Fear & Wonder Science Fiction film season. I can’t imagine a more apt way to blast off proceedings than with this exhaustive, hilarious and rousing documentary on one of Britain’s most stalwart science fiction achievements, a celebration of a still pulsing phenomenon with Future Shock! The Story Of 2000AD, Launched in 1977 and still going strong almost four decades later the publication was a rites of passage for many, incubating quiet seeds of insubordination in its impressionable audience, with a punk scrawled ethos stretched across a SF anthology veneer which instructed you to never trust authority, to always champion the underdog, and to not be ashamed to revel in mindless, excessive and occasionally creative violence. I was thoroughly obsessed with the comic back in my youth and brought it religiously like a true Squaxx dek Thargo, before moving on to the more serious Marvel and DC material which then were warming up to tackle more adult themed and cerebral fare, a fundamental turning epoch in the storytelling form which the documentary examines with a quietly brilliant insight. Essentially that whole renaissance of the art form from kids comics to ‘graphic novels’ was culled from the paddock of 2000AD’s writers and artists, which in turn the documentary asserts secured the bedrock of the modern movie blockbuster – it amuses me no end that the day this film received its premiere was the same prog that this was announced.
The structure is that of most great documentaries, let the subjects do the talking with as little interference or steering as possible, intercut with animated stills from the comic to illustrate the subject and psychos under discussion. From a fanboy perspective it was just scrotnig to finally see artbot legends like Carlos Ezquerra and Brian Bolland in the flesh so to speak, alongside stalwart thrill power purveyors such as Alan Grant, John Wagner, Kevin O’Neil, Dave Gibbons, Bryan Talbot, Steve Yeowell and some of the newer crew whom I’m afraid I’m not familiar with. From the writers pod they managed to secure Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and Pete Milligan, so of course conspicuous by his absence is the medium’s titan Alan Moore who was approached but unsurprisingly declined to appear, although his legacy and aura hangs heavy over the production like a tarnished wizards cowl. The real star of the show however is the Mighty Tharg* himself Pat Mills, the editor-in-chief and original creator of the comic, a foul-mouthed left-wing proto anarchist firebrand whose expletive laden tirades are the stuff of legend – there’s more than little of a cloned Malcolm McLaren in him when seen in the flesh. Moving from the early conception of the comics ultra-violent precursor Action (now this is amusing, I distinctly remember reading, and being dazzled by Hook-Jaw and Dredger) comics the path is an exhaustive trawl through the past thirty-five years of subversive SF, from the golden age of the 1980’s to the so-called dark ages of the 1990’s, all the way through to the current lone warrior in the newsagent which is the last remaining comic book series since the obliterating impact of the internet and other non-fiction distractions.
Full blaster marks to the documentarian Paul Goodwin and his tenacious producers Helen Mullane and Sean Hogan for marching in step with the comics unconventional and mischevious spirit, by tackling head-butt on some of the controversies of the publications exalted history. The shameful and absolutely pathetic treatment of the creators by the parent company come under scrutiny (no intellectual rights to the characters they visually and verbally created, enduring terrible pay and sneering conditions) and the documentary is far from hagiography, dwelling for an appropriate period on the so-called dark ages of the 1990’s when 2000AD really plumped the depths of stupidity with ‘satire’ such as the Space Girls– eurrgghh. They also address the total lack of female writers or artists on the publication, a situation which has only changed very recently and which they are now actively trying to address, although some independent, central female characters did arise in the comic such as Judge Anderson and Halo Jones – more on very her shortly. Historically it was very much a boys club with carefully demarcated gender publications imprinted in the entire industry, so its encouraging to see how that situation is gradually evolving. Most fascinating for me was the concerted effort that DC comics made in the late 1980’s to poach the best writers and artists over to the newly conceived Vertigo ‘adult’ comic imprint – Karen Berger gets a fair amount of facetime in the documentary – with Gaiman and Morrison being quite open about their career aspirations. Given how shoddily they were treated by 2000AD’s corporate puppet masters you really can’t blame them for jumping ship and the Atlantic to be paid properly, treated like artists and as they say ‘have the opportunity to mess about with iconic characters in both the Marvel and DC multiverse’ – what comic fan wouldn’t jump at that chance?
In terms of nerd credentials there is a fantastic moment in the piece when Gaiman reveals that he eventually convinced his friend Alan Moore to talk him through the rest of the outline he had for the beloved Halo Jones character. She is something of a trailblazing female character in a comic book milieu of chisel jawed heroes and damsels in distress, with fans often speculating on how her journey to continue to ‘get out’ might fare. Well, after a mere two hours of the eldritch wordsmith leading him through the six book arc that Moore had imagined Gaiman says he sat in stunned silence, tears streaming down his face. In terms of specific characters most of the attention of course is lavished on the iconic Judge Dredd (and a lot of love for the iconic Apocalypse War story arc which I’d argue is amongst the best the genre has ever offered) but both Strontium Dog and Minty’s personal favourite Nemesis: The Warlock also get their moments to shine, linking those series with the wider cultural and social concerns of Apartheid, intolerance, racism and uthoritarianism that plagued that most selfish of decades. Finally, me and my friends often speculate on why this strip never exploited its rich and diverse characters in other media (the abortion of the first Dredd film none withstanding), suffice to say that Tinseltown did come a knocking and their tactics and practices are widely exposed in the documentary which makes for some quite angry viewing.
The post screening Q&A was a spirited affair with most of the questions directed to Pat Mills as you’d imagine, the highlight was when he shared a hilarious anecdote about the intercine media cannibalism that occurs when a certain character or strip gets the attention of the Hollywood intelligentsia. Mills had created a character called ‘Accident Man’, a hitman who cleverly concealed his crimes by framing the deaths into bizarre yet plausible accidents. When an American studio executive discussed the character options for such a creation he explained that ‘Hey, hitmen aren’t cool anymore so it would be better to make him an insurance agent?, ‘You’ve got to be fucking kidding me right?’ Mills retorts, ‘ No, insurance agents are pretty cool in the States’ the grexnix responds. The producers revealed that they assembled a lot more footage covering other 2000AD characters they know have fevered fanbases, but they had to omit the material for time, so I guess you can expect a horde of Slaine, Robo-Hunter and ABC Warriors extras on the zarjaz DVD. Overall this is a terrific documentary both for pure nostalgia and as a detailed investigation into one of our emeralds isles most quietly influential post-war publications it’s also well crafted, exhaustive and thoroughly entertaining. Personally I’d put the comic up on the same plateau as H.G. Wells and Arthur C. Clarke in terms of our contribution to Science Fiction media, as its modest shadow stretches long across the contemporary media landscape, with the glut of superhero, horror and fantasy product infecting all forms of media. Already the second phase of the BFI handbook has teleported down to Minty prime so I must select my battles for phase two of operations in December, fret not as I’m just keeping in tone with the season and looking to the future with a wistful eye, we have plenty of material planned for November including the second Kubrick of the year o my brothers – real horrorshow;
*A quick aside, Tharg is mentioned and all of the old school creators in unison yell that ‘oh Jesus that was the worst thing we did, I fucking hated writing that twat….’