Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! 2000AD and Judge Dredd: The Secret History by writer and editor, Pat Mills, is a highly entertaining book about his years both at the helm of, and writing for, 2000AD. Anyone who knows about Pat Mills will know that he doesn’t pull any punches – and he can also hold a grudge. His recall of history is often disputed by others who were there, but if even half of what he says about the way creatives were (and are!) treated is true, then you can see why he might hold a grudge.
It’s well known that American writers and artists had to fight to receive royalties from their creations (most famously Superman and Batman), but people might be surprised to hear that the same is true of their English and Irish counterparts. Indeed, the writers and artists who created iconic characters like Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, and Strontium Dog still only receive tiny royalties – if they receive any at all.
But this book is not all doom and gloom – Mills’ stories of starting the now-iconic comic 2000AD are both great fun, and offer a fascinating insight into the comics industry. British “boy’s comics” were traditionally the preserve of the middle classes, and featured stuff-upper-lip characters – usually in wartime scenarios – that perpetrated the myth of “British pluck” and the glory of war. And then along came a scrappy contingent of young iconoclasts in 1977 to challenge the conservative establishment. These young punks included writers John Wagner and Alan Grant, and artists Kevin O’ Neill and Mick McMahon – names that would eventually become legendary in the comics field. Mills himself had already written an anti-war story called “Charley’s War” for the comic “Battle” that was loved by readers, but barely tolerated by the editors. Mills and Co. now used science-fiction as a way of writing subversive stories that showcased working-class characters and skewered the upper classes.
An example: Judge Dredd may be the title character and titular hero of his story, but he was actually designed as a vehicle to criticise the authoritarian and fascistic tendencies of governments. Needless to say, this often didn’t go down well with Mills’ corporate overlords and the stories of his run-ins with management are at once fascinating and hilarious.
All in all, this a hugely entertaining read, especially for anyone who grew up reading British comics in the 70s and 80s. But I finished it thinking that – while many writers complain about the way the book publishing world works – after reading this book they may thank their lucky stars they don’t work in comics publishing.