2000 AD is bringing back little-known Grant Morrison creation “Ulysses Sweet: Maniac for Hire” this month in “2000 AD” prog 2014 with “Centered” by writer Guy Adams and artist Paul Marshall. “Ulysses Sweet: Maniac for Hire” was created by Morrison for 1987’s “2000 AD” prog 507 and follows an insane, space-faring assassin who is just as likely to kill his client as the target. The character was only seen in a few stories during his original run, however, and hasn’t been seen in the decades since.
Adams spoke with CBR News about why he’s resurrecting “Ulysses Sweet,” revealing how he’ll be fleshing out the little-seen character, his trepidation about taking on a Grant Morrison creation and much more.
CBR News: Guy, for starters, who is Ulysses Sweet?
Guy Adams: Ulysses is not a man of hidden depths, his defining nature is right there on his business card (though you may have trouble reading one as I imagine a lot of them are badly stained). He’s a maniac and he’s for hire. He is to assassins what a spade is to a teaspoon. He’s insane, uncontrollable and as likely to kill the client as the target.
He works out of Solonik-5, a planetoid renowned for the fact that most visitors are caught in the crossfire before they so much as reach passport control. Even here, Ulysses is deemed beyond the pale. He is only allowed to spend two hours on its surface, after that he will be remotely destroyed. The government can do this by triggering the Psyche Chip in his head, an AI implant that acts as his permanent therapist, trying to keep him calm and point out his character flaws. It is a very busy, overworked and unappreciated AI.
What’s your new “Ulysses Sweet: Maniac for Hire” story about?
It’s nine parts long, with the first part a double-length installment.
It’s called “Centered” and features Ulysses in the highly ill-advised position of becoming a bodyguard for a pop star. Said star is spending some time on The Amethyst Cluster, the biggest and most-renowned center of self-improvement in the galaxy.
Ulysses Sweet is a relatively minor character created by Grant Morrison decades ago, only appearing in a couple of “2000 AD” strips. How did you get picked to bring him back after so many years?
I’m not sure to be honest. I’d written a “Future Shock” (one-off, four page stories that are your standard ‘audition-piece’ for getting work in “2000 AD”) and then editor Matt Smith, emailed me and asked if I fancied doing something with the character.
I said yes without even thinking about it. I grew up reading “2000 AD.” When you’ve wanted to write a story for a publication since the age of eight or so you don’t think too hard about it when the opportunity arises.
The idea was to revise the character a little. To take what I wanted from the original (which, as you say, was pretty minor, fifteen pages of comics, two stories in total) and bring something new to it.
What new stuff exactly will you be bringing to the character?
I’ve fleshed out the people around him. In the original strips he simply appeared, blew some things up and had a snack. Which is fine, a perfectly pleasant day if you’re so inclined. For a whole series though you need a bit more. So I’ve given him a background, a manager and, most importantly, an AI implanted in his brain. A Psyche Chip put there as both a punishment and, hopefully, preventative measure. It’s a therapist who is supposed to calm him down and make him see the error in his life choices. A sane mind trapped in a wobbling, grey mass of lunacy.
You’re also an accomplished novelist, but you haven’t really done much work in comics. Has writing comics been a longtime desire for you?
Comics have always been my favorite medium.
I sort of fell into becoming a writer — which sounds hateful and silly but I genuinely never planned on becoming one as a full-time career. I was an actor, deluding himself that the big break was just around the corner. Since the strange day I started making stuff up to pay the bills I’ve always wanted to break into comics but I never had the time to shop myself around really, I was running from one contract to the next just trying to keep food on the table. I’ve been extremely lucky to be so busy but it did mean doing things ‘on spec’ was hard.
Then, friend and Gentle Barbarian, Liam Sharp brought me onboard to script “The Engine” for Madefire, which I’ve been doing for a couple of years. That led to me doing a couple of other projects with the artist Jimmy Broxton (including a creator-owned book, “Goldtiger,” which we funded on Kickstarter and will be published February 2014).
Then “2000 AD!”
So yes, I’m pretty much an unknown at this. My main ambition over the next couple of years is to try and split my work equally between my novels and comics. I love them so much and can’t say how pleased I am to finally be shoving words in balloons.
Do you feel pressure taking the reins of a Grant Morrison-created character?
Oh God yes.
I’ll be honest in that Morrison is a massive hero. So, after shouting ‘Yes!’ without even thinking about it the panic set in.
The original stories are pretty slight, which I don’t mean as a criticism. In fact, it was a relief. There was a lot of room for me to put my own stamp on it. That helped.
So much of comics is work-for-hire, I don’t see myself as treading on his toes any more than I imagine he did when taking over, for example, “Doom Patrol.” Ulysses wasn’t a character with a long legacy and a distinct authorial voice, it was a joke strip that never had a full series. That makes a massive difference.
But, yeah, I’d be lying if I didn’t fret about it a little after the fact.
Have you contacted Morrison about the project at all?
I haven’t no. I did ask a couple of people I know in the business whether they had his e-mail but drew a blank. Even then I’m not entirely sure what I’d say.
“Hi this is me, I’m writing Ulysses Sweet.”
“You know, that thing you did back in the ’80s.”
“I did a lot of things in the ’80s.”
“Yeah. Erm… anyway the thing is, I was just hoping you didn’t hate me now?”
“Sorry, who did you say you were again?”
Jokes aside, this is work-for-hire. I suffer from a fair bit of hero-worship when it comes to Morrison, yes, so I am a little hyper-sensitive but it’s the way this sort of thing goes.
As well as my novels, I’ve written a fair few tie-in books over the years. I’ve also written original Sherlock Holmes novels. This isn’t the first time I’ve taken someone else’s character for a spin. You do it with respect but you also focus on what it is you are going to bring to it, otherwise what’s the point?
One day, hopefully, I will bump into Morrison at a convention or something and I will clam-up, start to sweat and then make noises that aren’t words and grin a lot. I’ll probably end up trying to kiss his brilliant head and get beaten up by security. But that will be because I look up to him so much, not because I’m panicking he’s going to hit me for abusing a character he dashed off at the start of his career.
Now that you’ve got your foot in the door, what other “2000 AD” properties would you like to take a crack at writing?
The answer to that would change every time you asked the question. There are just so many great characters and stories.
At this distinct moment in time, the first that popped into my head was “Robo Hunter” because that would be great fun. Ask me again in a minute and I’ll say “Ant Wars.”
“Ulysses Sweet: Maniac for Hired: Centered” starts in “2000 AD” prog 2014, available now worldwide digitally and in US stores this January.
Below, 2000 AD has provided CBR News with the original “Ulysses Sweet” strip by Grant Morrison and Colin MacNeil.