Monday, March 23, 2015

No. 5 Steve MacManus

First Prog: (as sub-editor): StarLord 1 / Prog 86
(as scripter): 14
Final Prog: (as managing editor) 1199
(as scripter): 1034

Total appearances: 1114
This requires a bit of unpacking, and, I’ll be honest, making a whole lot of assumptions about what, exactly, Tharg’s editorial minions actually do…

MacManus in his dorid incarnation, Mac-1. Robots with moustaches, man.
Art by Eric Bradbury

Writer/co-creator credits:
MacManus generated more than a few freelance scripts in his time (including a short stint on that notorious proto-2000AD comic, Action). On the whole he worked on existing properties, rather than creating and writing new ones (which makes sense, from an editorial perspective; more on this controversial theme in later entries, one imagines…)

I can’t be sure, but MacManus, credited as Ian Rogan, is, I think, the creator of MACH 0, 2000AD’s answer to the incredible Hulk. I’m a big fan of MACH 0 the character, from the pun of the name itself, to the delightfully brutal way the character was drawn and dialogued. WUUUURRGHHH!  

Art by Mike Dorey

I also suspect MacManus had a pretty strong hand in defining The VCs (for which he wrote some early scripts), and was certainly part of the brains trust that developed Rogue Trooper. (Not to take away, in either case, from the vital contributions of writer Gerry Finley-Day and then sub-editor Alan Grant.)

Art by Garry Leach

MacManus (again, credited as Rogan) wrote a heap of MACH 1 stories, too, especially the later run where the conspiracy stuff hots up. They were a shot in the arm after the basic formula of 6-page spy/action thrillers started to get stale. He’s also noteworthy for penning the one-off story Shok!, that was turned into the film Hardware. That story holds up beautifully (in large part thanks to Kevin O’Neill’s designs, it must be said).*

MacManus may or may not have written the occasional tales of Tharg the Mighty that used to appear every now and then back in the early years. These stories are hard to assess as pieces of work in their own right, outside of their original context - but as part of the flavour of 2000AD, they were great. I’m too young to have read them when they were first printed, but they were always a treat when stumbling across one in a back prog purchase, or in a Best of reprint. Other opinions are available.

On Steve:
Here are the details of MacManus’s service under Tharg:

Cover art by Ramon Sola

Stage 1:
MacManus moves from Battle to be a sub-editor on StarLord. You know, the bi-weekly comic that launched Strontium Dog and Ro-Busters. The comic sells well and is generally held to be ‘better’ than 2000AD of the same era (roughly speaking Progs 40-85). Nonetheless, StarLord is ‘matched and dispatched’ to join with its sister title.

Cover art by Dave Gibbons

Stage 2:
MacManus moves with the merger, and is installed as 2000AD’s editor from Progs 86 to 519 (the last of the newsprint progs). This is, of course, widely held to be 2000AD’s most resplendent Golden Age**, and likely includes the era when the weekly sales figures were at their highest***

Cover art by John Higgins

Stage 3:
From Progs 520-1180 MacManus becomes Managing Editor of ‘the 2000AD stable’. (aka the period between the Maxwell take-over and the Rebellion rescue). In particular he helps launch, and had a strong editorial hand in, Crisis (up to issue 50); Revolver (which only lasted 7 issues); Judge Dredd Megazine (he masterminded the development work, I beleive, and was the main editor up to issue 12). He was also involved with the running of 2000AD up until Prog 1199, and the Megazine up until issue 3.63 (after which point 2000AD moved to its current home, Rebellion, and MacManus went elsewhere). How much editorial input MacManus had on any given 2000AD Prog during this period of time I do not know. According to this informative Hibernia interview, he says he had a laissez-faire attitude; according to his interview with David Bishop for TPO he basically ceded full control of 2000AD itself to Richard Burton and Alan McKenzie. Those confessions aside, I doubt his contributions during this time equalled zero. I’m erring on the side of bigging up Steve MacManus – so I’ve totted up a heck of a lot of Progs in his name.

Cover art by Carlos Ezquerra

Cover art by Glenn Fabry

Leaving the Prog aside for the moment, let’s think about how important both Crisis and Judge Dredd theMegazine were at moving comics into a different realm. They may not have been as ground-breaking as the likes of Deadline, but they sure were trying something new, something bold, and, most especially, they really gave a chance for new writers and artists who wanted to make comics entirely for grown ups. I’m not saying this is better than making comics for children, but making children’s comics is hard, and not everyone can be a Wagner or Mills, with the talent to make stories child-friendly and sophisticated at the same time.

Even putting it on a simplistic level, Crisis and the Meg (at first), acted as a stepping stone for new creators who wanted to get work in the Prog (and in comics in general).

Now, some analysis:
Received wisdom (aka David Bishop’s analysis in Thrill Power Overload) has it that MacManus identified talented creators, did all he could to support them, perhaps most importantly lobbying for increased reprint revenue for their work, and then got out of their way to let them create the stories they wanted to tell.

This is all well and good, but presumably as an editor he also had a hand in such tasks as:
a)      deciding what sorts of stories to commission
b)      reading and approving scripts + artwork
c)      an amount of tinkering with said scripts and artwork after they were completed to make them better

And this is not to mention the editor’s ability to pick out quality new talent, and to nurture new writers and artists so that they could deliver work that fits the 2000AD mould. MacManus is very gracious in crediting his own training to Pat Mills, John Wagner and Gerry Finley-Day, but he in turn, as editor, surely helped nurture no lesser writers than:
Peter Milligan, Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, John Smith…
and no lesser artists than:
Cam Kennedy, Brendan McCarthy, Cliff Robinson, Steve Dillon, Sean Phillips…
Now it may well be that all he had to do was look at their work, deem it worthy, and run it in the comic, but I bet he’ll have tinkered here and there in small ways that only added to the betterment of everything that saw print, and sowed seeds in the minds of these men that blossomed in their later work.

Here's a quick gander at what was in the Prog under the direct helm of Steve MacManus:

With a hint of Crisis thrown in...

And let's not forget the first year of the mighty Megazine:

Am I laying too much credit on the shoulders of one behind-the-scenes editor? I don’t think so.

More on Steve MacManus
As the well as the above-mentioned Hibernia interview
there's a lengthy chat on the Thrill-Cast
and the super-exciting news that MacManus has a book about his time with IPC/Fleetway coming out in the back half of 2016!

*After reading about the controversy in a Nerve Centre shortly after the film Hardware came out in 1990, I was desperate to see it. I only managed to track it down a few years ago when it finally got a DVD release. Frankly, it feels dated in a 90s straight-to-video way, but is not without its own charm. To my mind, the best bits of the film are largely those that are nothing to do with the source comic, like the weirdo neighbour and his creepy song. I’m quite prepared to believe that Richard Stanley, the writer/director of Hardware, genuinely had no idea / had completely forgotten he was copying an existing story, for whatever that’s worth. (Mostly because I don’t like to believe that the sort of people who are prepared to go through the hell of producing a low-budget film would just knowingly rip someone else off. OK, Maybe LaBeouf would do it.)

**‘Golden Age’ is a very loose term used in all sorts of contexts, especially comics for some reason. It is sometimes taken to refer merely to the earliest times, but usually also refers to the best times. 2000AD has, arguably, had three golden ages: the original run of about 16 Progs, when Pat Mills was in charge; the bulk of the mid-section of MacManus’s tenure (especially Progs 178-600ish), and, finally, the bulk of Matt Smith’s tenure, around Prog 1400ish - the present day. More on that coming soon…

***assertion entirely made-up. Prog 1 was probably the best-selling single issue, I shouldn’t wonder. Likely followed by progs 2 and 3. TV ads and free gifts, man. But one assumes that sales must have been pretty good in the mid 80s for the moneymen to even consider producing spin-offs such as Crisis and the Megazine, at a time when most newsagent comics had died off.

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