Sunday, May 1, 2016

No. 67 Andy Diggle

First Prog: 1100ish (as editorial assistant); 1200 (as editor); 1280 (as writer)
Latest Prog: (as editor) 1273; (as writer) 1799

First Meg: 3.64 (as editor) 3.68 (as writer) [or, in real terms, 167/171]
Latest Meg: 3.68 (as editor) 330 (as writer)

Total appearances: 126
-of which 47 are for his writing, including his creator-owned work from the Megazine.

and to be honest, I’ve short-changed Mr Diggle quite outrageously. For some reason I hadn’t totted up his stint as Bish-Op’s assistant when I drew up my tally way back at the start of the project. I don’t know exactly when he joined the team as assistant editor, but I believe it was around Prog 1100, and that’d give him an actual total count of 226. I’m sure one high-ranking 2000AD hero in particular* won’t be sad that Diggle has dropped so low on the hero count, even if by all other accounts he’s a decent chap.

Diggle as he wished to be perceived: in command!
Art by Henry Flint
Creator Credits:
Lenny Zero

A Diggle-esque double-cross?
Art by Ben Willsher
Other writing credits:
Judge Dredd vs Aliens

Notable character creations:
Lenny Zero

Notable characteristics:
Old school sensibilities. Plotting plotty plots. Characters with a cynical edge and maybe a hidden emotional side. Twisty turny plotty stories. Stories grounded in the real world, or at least, a slightly heightened version of the real world. Movie-ready dialogue. More than a passing interest in tech and hardware. Manly men who aren’t really that manly (and that’s part of the point).

On Andy the editor:
Let’s face it, the man is never going to get away from the phrase “shot glass of rocket fuel”. It’s a phrase he included in a memo to all writers and artists written and distributed shortly after he took over as editor. I think it’s fair to say that the tone of the comic did change noticeably under his tenure, and subsequent thrills did have something of the short, explosive bursts of excitement about them. So that’s nice.

I think it’s also fair to say Diggle was a bit of an idiot to send the same memo to Pat Mills, creator of the comic. He could at least have added a covering note telling him that he was worried about the state of the comic and wanted to get the creative team excited by the idea of a new direction, hence this memo, which he was sending to Mills as a courtesy, not as a call to arms! Presumably he had his reasons.**

ANYWAY that train has long since sailed. Let’s talk about Dig-L’s wider editorial influence, shall we?

Summing up the Dig-L mission statement via Dredd. Phallic imagery unintentional?
Art by Jock

It’s hard to say how much this was Diggle, and how much the legacy of David Bishop, under whom Diggle earned his assistant editorial stripes. No doubt a bit of both. History (pace Mills) likes to record Diggle as the point at which 2000AD really turned around, and got reliably exciting again, with all hint of media-pandering and pretentiousness excised. It’s not quite as straightforward as that, but I think readers can pick out some specific qualities that marked Diggle’s two-year turn as Tharg.

In particular, there were almost no epics – even Dredd only had ‘Helter Skelter’ – instead it was all about of one-off serieses that were short but perfectly formed. In fact, formed perfecetlyy to fit into a European Album format (think: Rain Dogs). This may have had nothing to do with Diggle per se, and just be coincidence of some upper management decision. Some of these series (think: Vanguard) were clear attempts to generate new, ongoing/recurring series. That the genuine one-off stories (e.g. Necronauts, Love Like Blood) were better than the potential ongoing stories is mere coincidence). In any case, it neatly bridges the stylistic gap to Matt Smith, who has proven to be the master of this format.

Diggle also upheld the Bishop tradition of keeping up other regulars in the Prog besides Dredd. In his case, that meant plenty of outings for Sinister Dexter (still in the early delightful shorts phase), and Nikolai Dante (which was enjoying the combo of the generally gritty but also wonderful Tsar Wars, and the return to romping with Gentleman Thief.)

Perhaps the most notable Diggle feature was proactively re-engaging with thrills and droids of the past. Particular favourites were Steve Moore and Colin Wilson on the droid side, and getting Rogue Trooper and ABC Warriors back on track on the thrill side. Diggle openly embraced the fact that readers wished the Prog could be as great as it had been in the old days – but also managed (I think) to make sure it felt new, too.

So, despite their apparent mutual hatred, Diggle got Mills to provide the superfun Deadlock (which I maintain is really Nemesis Book XI), and to send the full ABC Warriors team back to Mars to engage in a series of short adventures, mixing up artists. ABC Warriors: The Third Planet wasn’t as great as Deadlock, but it marked a change in fortune for the mek-nificent seven, who got good again for quite a while before floundering in a morass of weird rehashing in recent years.

More obviously successful was the latest attempt to recapture Rogue Trooper

Another cover with an old favourite blasting the reader in the face.
Art by Jock
It’s under Diggle that we got Tor Cyan. (As opposed to another series of Mercy Heights, I guess) It’s another example of a strip that hasn’t held up quite so well in the long run, but at the time felt like ten breaths of fresh air. Not least because of the art team: returning artist Colin Wilson, swapped tales with a masterful Kevin Walker, and new superstar on the block, Jock. And with several short, punchy episodes, Tor Cyan certainly fit the shotglass metaphor. Basically, he shot things and ruminated on how bad it felt, all with stunning landscapes in the background, with writer John Tomlinson’s trademark witty banter keeping it from being too gloomy.

Diggle had a go at scripting the original Rogue Trooper, too. He's the biochip in the gun this time.
Art by Colin Wilson

Wilson’s style in particular kind of epitomises the idea of nostalgia and modernity. It hadn’t really changed from his work in the early 80s – but even at that time, it stuck out as kinda new-fangled. And it has that real-world, only just in the future feel that seems to be Diggle’s preferred milieu, judging from his writing. Again, Wilson's work on Rain Dogs is a great example of the comic trying to recapture the feeling of Progs from the early 80s, while also delivering an entirely new story.

Rain Dogs: better than Disaster 1990
Art by Colin Wilson
 And as if that wasn’t enough, Diggle was the man in charge when 2000AD got an elegant new version of its longest-running logo. (With a large helping of thanks to new owners Rebellion, who no doubt encouraged/endorsed the choice.)

New, streamlined Logo; Also new mean-lined Tharg.
Art by Kevin Walker

Diggle also gambled hard on wooing veteran writer Steve Moore back to the fold, launching him onto several, potentially ongoing, concerns. You can’t really fault Diggle for the fact that it just didn’t work out this way. Moore’s basic craftsmanship means his work is always worth reading, but for whatever reasons he had much greater success with his short stories than with his longer ones. So it was that Diggle had to balance the relatives lows of Red Fang and Killer with the highs of Tales of Telguuth.

A selection of new thrills as brought to you by Dig-L Tharg.

As I am fond of pointing out on the editor-based entries, it’s right and proper to give these dudes some credit for nurturing new talent. Not always clear-cut to say it was one editor not another, but Diggle I think was a big part of the DreddCon pitchfest concept, giving hope to new writers, and indeed yielding lasting great Si Spurrier.

And then on the art side, there was reigning house artist and Tharg recreator Kevin Walker, serving as the tentpole, and explosively exciting newcomers in the form of Frazer Irving and Jock.

And let's not forget that Diggle had a short but not unworthy stint as editor of the Judge Dredd Megazine, steering it from the widely hated Volume 3 (the one that was chock full of reprints) and the much-loved Volume 4 (the one where each issue was the saize of a phone book. Or so it felt at the time).

Main art by Colin Wilson - who else would
Diggle use to make a mission statement?
What Diggle wants from his comic:
Johnny Alpha shooting the reader in the face.
Art by Dylan Teague

Diggle somehow managed to get just a bit of extra new strip into the Meg, and also took the decision to ditch Preacher in favour of some old Strontium Dog reprints. If nothing else, it served as a way for him to say 'this is what I loved in the old days, let's have more like this, shall we?' And on that note, let's move on to:

Andy the writer:
Andy Diggle as writer got quite a bit less play in 2000AD. One imagines this was largely by the man’s own choice – he’s written plenty of comics for other publishers, many of them rather good***. 

Diggle DID print one of his own stories as editor, and did allow his own hero to get the better of Dredd.
But he clearly gets that it's not always wise to aloow this sort of thing.
Art by Jock

His first effort, Lenny Zero, was spectacularly well-received. Thanks in large part to the aforementioned Jock, for sure. I can’t imagine the series without his input, to the extent that I wonder how much Diggle and Jock worked on the opening episode together. That said, the success of the strip is also very much down to Diggle’s deft plotting and simple characterization. He put his money where his memo was, conjuring up an engaging character, putting him through his paces, and telling a satisfying story all in a single episode. And then did it again a couple more times.

Lenny Zero: made for the screen?
Art by Jock
Re-reading it lately, it’s not quite as explosively exciting as it felt at the time, but it’s still good stuff, suggesting that Diggle knew how to write comics from the get-go. And he's using a deliberate style in his narration and dialogue that brings the basic story to life. A modern-noir style, you might say. It also helped a lot that Lenny Zero was, to my mind, the first winning all-new character to arrive in the Megazine since Devlin Waugh (No offence to Missionary Man and Shimura, but they took a long time to really get going, I thought).

Zero's childhood, or Diggle's own?
Art by Jock

His return to the character a decade later on the long form series Zero’s 7 was an utter delight. Yes, obviously homaging Ocean’s 11, and yes, relying in some measure on details of the world of Mega-City 1, but filtered through a clever brain. And it proved that Jock wasn’t needed – Ben Willsher did a bang-up job on art duties.

ten years laer, still talking like a movie hero, still waiting for the twist to kick in.
Art by Ben Willsher

Diggle’s other big hit was also in the world of Dredd, namely Incubus, the Aliens crossover. Co-credited to John Wagner, but how much was written by the big man remains unclear. What is clear, though, is that it’s a contender for all-time greatest inter-company crossover ever.**** 

Diggle almost goes full Millar, but pulls back at the last minute.
Art by Henry Flint
It nails Dredd, as you might expect, but I also found it retained the most thrilling bits of Aliens, the most relevant of the films to an action story with a cast of expendable characters.

For fun times with Xenomorphs, bring along a cast that can be safely picked off.
Art by Henry Flint
Not at all similar was Diggle’s first and, to date, only entirely original series for Tharg, Snow/Tiger. Perhaps in some respects it was too timely for its own good, with its story of Islamic profiling, terrorism and moral uncertainty, all while the Iraq War and Guantanamo Bay were regular headlines in the real world. Indeed, the story is barely science fiction at all (I now can’t remember if it was meant to be vaguely futuristic, or merely cutting edge).

Snow has a trick up her sleeve
Art by Andy Clarke

 Of course, if you’re writing a story called Snow/Tiger, about two leads characters called Ms Snow and Mr Tiger (or whatever their real names were), then the story has to be about character. And it never really had enough time to develop, being as it was mostly an action thriller with plenty of commendably wordless action.


Not skimping on the violence!
Art by Andy Clarke

Nothing wrong with that, but it meant that across the only two stories we got, the characters never quite got beyond the broad strokes of brash dickhead man + uptight but supercompetent woman. Aspirations of being Pride & Prejudice in the Counter-Terrorist Unit lurked in their somewhere, and that’s as good a literary touchstone as you get.

You might think the two leads espouse differing political views. You'd be right.
Art by Andy Clarke
Never answer someone else's phone!
Art by Jock
Snapshot, his creator-owned series in the Meg a decade later had less of that problem. Somewhat embarrassingly, I can’t at this moment recall how that series plays out, but I do remember being hooked in by an exciting opening. 

If it suffered, it was from a problem that seems to beset many a ‘wrong man’ thriller: the character at the centre of the story is meant to be a stand-in for the reader, basically an ordinary guy. Except he’s kind of a knob. No shortage of those in the real world, to be sure, but it did put me off. 

Wise old cop meets wise-ass kid. Diggle knows his tropes.
Art by Jock
Of course, had Diggle gone for a squeaky-clean type as the hero, it wouldn’t have helped, and certainly wouldn’t have felt very 2000AD. And if we know anything about Andy Diggle, he knows what makes for good 2000AD.

More on Andy Diggle:
Start with his blog:
Specifically, here’s an old blog post where he reprints his notorious memo
And here’s a short piece for Comic Book Resources from 2000AD’s 35th birthday celebrations

Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd vs Aliens: Incubus
Lenny Zero: Zero’s Seven

Gruff 'n tuff by Andy Diggle; Art by Colin Wilson
*Go and watch ‘Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD’ to see Pat Mills laying into Andy Diggle with a passion. I think he hates the man even more than he dislikes David Bishop, another who is not without enemies. I have neither met nor dealt with any of these fine folk in any way, and have nothing but admiration for all of them! I do like to hide in the bubble of not meeting your heroes lest they disappoint you…

**To provide some context, Mills HAD lately delivered Slaine: The Secret Commonwealth, Nemesis Book X and ABC Warriors: Hellbringer, all the least well-liked of those beloved series. So he perhaps needed some kind of kick up the bum.

***The Losers is highly recommended.

****Clearly I haven’t read that many crossovers, but it’s worth noting how many of the good ones involve Judge Dredd: Judgement on Gotham, obvs, but also Mars Attacks! Judge Dredd. Punisher meets Archie is pretty great, too.

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