June 16, 2005 Posted by admin

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Guest Column
by Andy Diggle

So I was the editor of 2000 AD for a while. I was going to write about my time behind Tharg’s desk, and give all you aspiring writers a few useful tips. But I resigned a year ago to become a freelance comics writer – and to be honest, I’m glad to have put it all behind me. This writing malarkey is a lot less stressful – the only deadlines I have to worry about now are my own.


The thought of going back to 2000 AD’s teetering slush-pile of unsolicited submissions – most of which had served a more useful socio-economic function as trees – just gives me the heebie-jeebies. So let me boil it down for you before I move on. There are plenty of books and classes out there that’ll teach you how to tell a story, whether it be for novels, film, TV, radio, whatever. Drama is drama. If you’re a would-be writer and can’t be bothered to teach yourself the craft of your chosen profession, editors can’t do it for you.

Educate yourself.

What else? Read the submissions guidelines, but don’t be a slave to formula and clich√©. Be original. Surprise and entertain us. Push the limits of your imagination. Avoid predictability. Have a protagonist we can relate to. Have thrills. Have structure. Have a point. And when it comes to dealing with editors, be patient and polite. Trust me, they have enough hassles to deal with.

So now when I meet people and they ask me what I do, and I say, “I write comic books”, they generally give me a look like they’re not sure whether to pat me on the head or back away slowly. But if you can crack it, it’s a great way to make a living. Just imagine: no boss. No commuting. No having to wear a suit and having to pretend that you get along with your workmates. Get out of bed as late as you want. And best of all, you get to just make stuff up – and get paid for it! How cool is that?

I’m just starting out on the road of the professional writer, but one thing that’s already struck me is an interesting discrepancy between how 2000 AD and the American publishers view their character properties. The traditional path for a new British writer is to start off penning a few Future Shocks for the House Of Tharg; once he’s proven he can tell a story in five pages, he might be asked to develop a new character in a multi-part story. Only after a respectable body of work would he be allowed to write a long-established character like Judge Dredd.

In America, it’s all about “servicing the trademark”, keeping their intellectual properties alive no matter what. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still tell good stories with ’em. In truth, a lot of these properties were obtained by screwing the original creators, but nowadays a writer has no excuse for not going into the job with his eyes open. Don’t want to do work-for-hire? Then don’t. Personally, this discrepancy suits me just fine. Most of the great characters in 2000 AD are closely associated with a particular writer. John Wagner is the only guy who can pull off the perfect balance of character, action and dry humour that defines Judge Dredd; and if you even suggested another writer handling Nemesis, Slaine, or the A.B.C. Warriors, Pat Mills would spontaneously self-detonate.

Yet just think of all the great character licenses created for film and TV that could be turned into popular comics. Who wouldn’t want to see Garth Ennis put words in the mouth of John McClane in a Die Hard comic, or Grant Morrison reinvent the Six Million Dollar Man for the 21st century? Sadly, comics based on TV and movie characters are often dire, produced solely to cash in on a franchise rather than tell a good story at the same time. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Some noble exceptions have come from Dark Horse, including Star Wars, Aliens, Predator, Buffy, The Terminator, RoboCop and Indiana Jones. Sure, a lot of it was crap, but there’s been some great stuff too. John Wagner and Cam Kennedy doing Boba Fett in his own book? Yes, please. Frank Miller and Walt Simonson on Terminator Versus RoboCop? Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about! It may not win any awards, but it’s one big, fat slice of pure entertainment.

Brand recognition can help attract readers who wouldn’t normally pick up a comic book, and anything that gets Joe Public into a comic shop has got to be a good thing. It just needs to be marketed right – as Dark Horse learned with Joss Whedon’s Fray. The guy knows how to write a comic book, but how many of his fans even knew it existed?

Now if only I can convince them to publish my “Lando Calrissian: Superfly Sex Machine” mini-series…

Andy Diggle is currently writing Hellblazer Special: Lady Constantine and The Losers for Vertigo, and Judge Dredd/Aliens: Incubus (with John Wagner) and Snow/Tiger for 2000 AD.

Copyright © 2002 Andy Diggle

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