Tuesday, March 17, 2015

No. 3 Alan Grant

First Prog: (as sub-editor) 95; (as scripter) 102
Final Prog: not seen since Prog 1839, but hopefully he'll be back soon!
First Meg: 1
Final Meg:  last seen with an Anderson tale from Meg 349, likely back with more Anderson, Dredd and who knows what else in due course.

Total appearances: 1681
-covering multiple stories across hundreds of Progs, Judge Dredd Megs, StarLord, and various Annuals and Specials from that stable, as well as crossovers with Batman and Lobo…

…but not counting the 287 scripts he co-wrote for the rather delicious Daily Star Judge Dredd comic strip.
- Or the many stories he has written for publications such as Eagle, Scream and Toxic!,  that might be considered part of the 2000 AD stable.

Co-Creator credits (all with John Wagner):
Ace Trucking Co, Helltrekkers, Mean Team, Bad City Blue (I think), Durham Red, Middenface McNulty and a large number of supporting players throughout the world of Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog, including such enduring wonders as Orlok the Assassin and PJ Maybe.
(not to mention The Bogie Man and Bob the Galactic Bum, both reprinted in the Megazine)

Creator credits (not to deny the contribution of various artists!):
Mazeworld; Samantha Slade; Armageddon (the Bad Man); Apocalypse Soon

Other writing credits:
Blackhawk, Judge Dredd, Robohunter, Strontium Dog, Future Shocks, Anderson Psi Division, BLAIR 1, a fair number of future shocks, Time Twisters and other one-offs

Other 2000AD credits:
Grant began his career in as an assistant editor, from Progs 95-174. From interviews - and Grant is a famously candid and willing interview sibject - it’s known that he put a ton of work into fiddling with Gerry Finley-Day’s scripts on the VCs, Rogue Trooper and most especially Harry 20 on the High Rock (he might even deserve a cop-creator credit on those?), and that he supplied key points of feedback and notes on the early Future Shock submissions of one Alan Moore. Hard to measure a specific Prog count for this work (I’ve simply added the whole range of 81 progs to his tally); not at all hard to celebrate the good work achieved on helping deliver two classic space war stories and on nurturing a top talent.*

Notable character creations:
Since Grant’s most prolific spell as a writer for 2000 AD was in collaboration with John Wagner, it’s not really possible to parse what sprang from the mind of Alan Grant alone. But it seems fair to credit Grant with the enduring legacy of: Judge Anderson, Orlok the Assassin, Middenface McNulty, to name but the three supporting players who have gone on to enjoy their own solo strips under Grant’s solo pen.

Grant was, I assume, the key creator of Feral, who appeared in Strontium Dog after the point at which the two stopped co-writing stories for 2000AD. I’m a big Feral fan (including the Ennis/Hogan run), and saddened by Wagner’s dismissal of him in the recent resurrection storyline.
Let’s also not forget that Grant, with some help from Kelvin Gosnell, completely revamped the old Tornado Blackhawk series into a space opera. Sidekicks Zog and Ursa linger in the mind, and the villainous ‘soul sucker’ was a neat idea, too.

Notable characteristics:
Black humour; literary (and generally well-read) references; strong women; anti-heroes; caustic and forthright interviews. Being clever and funny.

Art by Ron Smith.

On Alan:
Although Grant’s first work for 2000 AD was as a solo writer – on a future shock, followed by a long stint writing fantasy warrior Blackhawk - he really made his mark as a writing partner to John Wagner. Together they tackled classic runs – some might even dare to say, definitive runs - of Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog and Sam Slade, RoboHunter (banging out Ace Trucking Co, the original Mean Team and about 2/3 of all scripts for the entire run of the 1980s Eagle comic along the way…).

Legend has it that the two would hash out scripts together in a cramped, musty shed with pen and paper (and perhaps the odd recreational liquid), and that they’d take turns to type up the scripts to send to their various editors.

This practice makes it nigh impossible to see who is responsible for what in each collaboration, and I don’t suppose either Wagner or Grant much care. The simple fact is that these jointly-written stories were at least as good as, and very often better than, the scripts either man ever wrote alone.

Art by Ian Gibson

I believe both writers have stated in interviews that they had a jokes policy that operated such that both had to laugh for a joke to be kept in. If only one found it funny, it was cut. Whatever the truth, it’s a rare episode from their collaborations that doesn’t have something in it to raise a smile – even amidst the bleakness of Strontium Dog: Rage there is humour salted throughout.

Art by Carlos Ezquerra

Post-partnership, Grant’s solo work started to appear (in 2000 AD), somewhere around Prog 600, in 1988. To my mind, he chose to go in two different directions as a solo writer. Some of his work, often in his Judge Dredd scripts, focused on comedy, with a lot of satirical content aimed at the world of the time he was writing. (This kind of thing has been a long tradition at 2000 AD, but it’s exemplified best by another Grant effort, namely B.L.A.I.R. 1.**) But in his other work Grant often veered away from comedy and took the opportunity to develop ideas he’d clearly recently enjoyed reading about, especially in his Anderson: Psi Division work. Luke Reinhart in ‘the Random Man’; mythical eastern kingdoms in ‘Shamballa’; engrams in ‘Engram’… you get the idea.

Grant expertly manages to present and play around with these ideas without ever plagiarizing them, and is adept at poking holes in some of the sillier aspects. To be honest, I’m often happiest when Grant simply uses his encyclopedic knowledge to drop in casual intellectual puns. “What’s the matter Heisenberg, ain’t ya got any principles?!?” being a favourite example. (From Strontium Dog: Incident at the end of the Universe)

Sometimes, Grant’s own intellect doesn’t quite translate onto the page. Mazeworld, one of the most beautifully-drawn strips in 2000 AD history, is so desperately loaded with symbolism, so deliciously close to bringing the reader to a state of epiphanic realization, that it’s crushing when the story somehow fails to actually be about anything.***

For me, the best of Grant’s writing is in his character work. I loved what he did with Johnny Alpha and Feral in the Final Solution, and it was a shame he chose not to take that story further after the death of the main man. But, beyond that and to the present day, it’s all about Psi-Division’s own Cassandra Anderson.

There are essays to be written elsewhere, by smarter people, about the deftness with which Grant ages****, matures and keeps Anderson as a believable person. She’s someone inherently good who is forced to reconcile her day-to-day work as a Judge enforcing the law within a totalitarian regime. She also tussles with psychic criminals on a regular basis, although I have to say that this side of the strip has, to me, felt like an afterthought ever since Grant began exploring Cassie’s inner thoughts.

And then there’s Dredd himself. The famous irony at the heart of Judge Dredd, (the series, not the character) is that we, the readers, are made to root for a hero who is ultimately a tool of an evil society. Grant, it seems to me, prefers to cast Dredd as a bastard, and pointedly not a hero – in contrast to Wagner, who plays him as a conflicted hero most often. Grant is also keen on pitting Dredd against the more lunatic fringe of Mega City society, making it tough to sympathize with any of the character in his Dredd work, but for one-off stories, it’s all about the jokes and the sympathy isn’t a big deal. 

Art by Arthur Ranson

Compared to his Dredd, Grant’s Anderson is much more obviously a character he likes to see the good in, and to show how much it hurts her that she’s stuck in a twisted system – one she both sympathizes with and one she hates. 

Art by Arthur Ranson

He writes a mean Batman tale, too! (And, at long last, it seem that a bunch of it is going to be reprinted in the upcoming collection 'Legends of the Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle'. About damn time!)

My personal favourites:
Strontium Dog: incident on Mayger Minor; The Rammy; The Final Solution
Anderson, Psi Division: The Possessed; the Random Man; the Protest; R*Evolution
Robo-Hunter: Beast of Blackheart Manor; Farewell, my Billions
Ace Trucking Co: Lugjack
The Mean Team
Judge Dredd: Monkey Business at the Charles Darwin Block; Alone in a Crowd; Letter from a Democrat; Paid with thanks; What if Judges did the Ads?; Bug; John Cassevetes is dead…
(I’m not trying to pretend that one author had more input than another on the co-written tales, just continuing the joke from the Wagner entry that listing favourite Dredd stories is an endless affair…)

*I’ve not been able to locate a definitive statement on what, exactly, Alan Grant did with Gerry Finley-Day’s scripts. Did he simply type up the (apparently somewhat illegible) scripts and fix various spelling and grammar problems? Did he massage the script in various ways so that storytelling made more sense panel to panel? Did he rewrite character dialogue to jazz it up / make it more consistent? Did he even go so far as to invent new plot ideas? I suppose it varied from episode to episode, and the truth is I’m loathe to detract from either man’s work on the strips in question, which remain fondly-remembered classics.

**OK, not the best strip, but the most obvious to illustrate my point!

***For all that I find Mazeworld, as a whole, to lack a pleasing resolution, there’s a lot of pleasure to be had reading the strip episode by episode.

****Some artists / editorial mandates have been stricter about depicting an ever-ageing Anderson than others. But, given her origins as a Debbie Harry lookalike, the character has done well to stay clear of cheesecake poses for most of her career. (Not that I’d begrudge, say, Brian Bolland or David Roach their fondness for cheesecake.)


  1. Glad you mentioned the Batman stuff. While nowt to do with 2000ad I always love the fact that in the middle of all this wonderful Tharg driven stuff he also wrote one of the defining (and my personal favourite) Batman runs ever.

  2. Occasionally, with characters such as Scarface, you can tell it's the same guy on Batman who wrote Dredd for years and years. But the amazing thing is that most of Grant's Batman work feels really different. I'm in awe of his level of craft at writing to very different briefs.