Matt Smith Steers "2000 AD" Into Its 35th Year

Matt Smith has been Editor-in-Chief of "2000 AD" for a decade and of the "Judge Dredd Megazine" for almost as long. During that time, Smith has earned a reputation as the greatest EiC the British sci-fi/horror anthology books have ever seen, having ushered in the golden age of creativity both books are currently experiencing. Since joining "2000 AD" -- in the year 2000, appropriately enough -- Smith has also helped spearhead parent-company Rebellion's push into the US market, took "2000 AD" to nearly day-and-date digital and recently announced that IDW Publishing is licensing Judge Dredd for their an American take on the character.

And despite 2012 already being filled with activity, Smith's year has only just begun as he's currently overseeing months of events planned for the 35th Anniversary of "2000 AD," something he hopes will put the book in front of more readers than ever before.

As part of an ongoing series of interviews at Comic Book Resources celebrating "2000 AD's" 35th Anniversary, Smith spoke with us, reminiscing about 35 years of "2000 AD," what it was like to grab the EiC reigns from his predecessor Andy Diggle, what the IDW deal means for Judge Dredd and which scrotnig upcoming books have him excited the most.

CBR News: You were a regular reader of "2000 AD" from a young age. What were some of your own favorite strips growing up?

Matt Smith: I started reading "2000 AD" in 1985, so I was twelve. Dredd was a firm favorite right from off, as was "Strontium Dog," "Halo Jones" and "Slaine," then later "Zenith" and "Indigo Prime," and, through catching up on reprints, "D.R. & Quinch" and "The V.C.s."

How did you first start working at "2000 AD?" How were the editorial and creative atmospheres different a decade ago?

I applied for the job of editorial assistant back in 2000 -- David [Bishop] had left to go freelance, Andy [Diggle] had become editor, so they were looking for a new assistant. I was working in book publishing at the time. I had a couple of interviews, got the job -- then was told Rebellion had acquired the comic, so we had to move out of previous publisher Egmont's offices and find new premises! I got on with Andy and David fine, though David was editing the "Judge Dredd Megazine" freelance by that point, from his home in Scotland. Andy was very enthused about pouring old-school energy back into the title, so he had a clear idea of what "2000 AD" should be.

As far as the atmosphere went, once the move was sorted out and we got into a regular routine, it was a fun time in our little two-man office in London Bridge (with designer Steve Cook coming in two days a week), next door to a pub. But with Rebellion being based in Oxford, we were quite removed from any IT or admin support, so now -- having moved "2000 AD" to their Oxford base -- it feels like we're much more a part of the company.

What was Andy's vision at this point in tim, and how is your current vision of the book different?

Andy wanted to recapture the old-school feel of "2000 AD" in its heyday. He felt the comic had lost some of its inventiveness, its drama, its blow-the-back-of-your-head-off excitement and wanted to bring that back, whether through the writers and artists commissioned, or the stories. Everything was very condensed, action-oriented. My vision isn't hugely different, but perhaps I've allowed the series to breathe a little more, given them a bit more space to develop.

What were some of the goals you set to achieve when you took over as EIC ten years ago? Did you have different goals for the "Megazine" when you took it over in 2006?

Whenever I think of "2000 AD's" strongest era, in the early eighties, I always think it had a solid line-up of recurring characters that developed over the years. That was what I wanted to have when I became editor, and I think I succeeded to a degree. Other than that, I'm always striving to put out a good-looking prog with a nice mix of creators. And obviously, we're trying to increase the readership and encourage any fans that jumped ship to pick up an issue again. As far as the "Megazine" goes, when I took it over, I wanted to make a little more contemporary, focus the features on comics.

Was the book already 'saved' by the time you took over, or was cancellation still hanging over your shoulder in the early days?

With Rebellion entering the picture, there's been no talk of cancellation since. Publishing a sustained library of graphic novel collections over the past six or seven years has helped shore up the comic -- "2000 AD's" back catalogue is one of its most important attributes.

How many titles have you released with Rebellion? Do sales of the back catalog ever match those of the weekly?

Do you mean, how many trade collections has Rebellion published? Close to 150, I think, since 2005 or thereabouts. Total sales of the "Dredd Case Files" exceed those of the weekly -- I think "Case Files " #1 is on its seventh or eighth reprint now.

What are some of your favorite, or most important, series that you yourself commissioned? and what has you most excited in terms of upcoming storylines?

Really like "Leviathan," "Caballistics, Inc.," "Defoe," "Zombo," "Kingdom," the Dredd stories "Total War," "Mandroid," and "Tour of Duty," and the Strontium Dog stories "Traitor to His Kind" and "Blood Moon," to name a few off the top of my head. All of these are enjoyable, meaty stories -- artwork to get lost in, powerful moments, really dramatic (or in the case of "Zombo," utterly ludicrous) stuff.

Andy Diggle and Ben Willsher are bringing "Lenny Zero" back to "2000 AD." The series, originally created by Diggle and Jock, about a Mega-City undercover Judge turned grifter first ran in the "Judge Dredd Megazine," but this new story will be published in the prog in July. Then in September, we'll have the start of "Brass Sun," an SF/fantasy epic from the "New Deadwardians" team of Ian Edginton and I.N.J. Culbard.

In a recent CBR interview, Pat Mills said this about you. "Matt is the best editor '2000 AD' has had. I say that with total authority, knowledge -- after all I worked for them all -- and without being partisan... I'm full of admiration for how Matt steers the ship." What does praise like that, coming from the main who very literally started the book, mean to you?

Well, it's very flattering, naturally! To have gone from reading the comic as a teenager and then editing it twenty years later is mad enough, but to be told you're its best editor is praise indeed, especially coming from Pat, who's been there right from the beginning. It's impossible to tell, being this close to the comic, if you're doing things right, so comments like that really help.

If you could pick one moment, either creatively or editorially, that epitomizes your time at "2000 AD," what would it be?

One of my favorite moments in 2000 AD in the last year is when Shakara drives the planet into his enemies in the last series of "Shakara." Absolutely brilliant, insanely imaginative, and of course quintessentially "2000 AD."

Of the series that you've brought back in recent years, a lineup which includes "Indigo Prime," "Flesh" and "Savage" to name a few, do you think worked the best? And are there any series you'd like to see return but haven't been able to get yet?

I won't flag up any series that I think didn't work, as it's unfair on the creators involved -- it's fair to say some strips haven't always succeeded, but everyone starts out with the best intentions. Sometimes it just doesn't journey well from script to comics page. As for successful resurrections, I like "Savage" a lot. It's a very tough, noir story.

I don't think there are any characters left that I want to bring back but haven't -- if Alan Moore and Ian Gibson wanted to do more "Halo Jones," then of course I'd snap them up, but as that's unlikely to happen, it's best to leave the story untouched.

Are there any previous EiCs whose work you particularly admire?

Steve MacManus is the editor I aspire to be -- he edited "2000 AD" from around Progs 100-500, and shepherded the comic through its strongest period. He also had a talent for funny, irreverent cover lines, and generally brought a lot of fun to the comic.

McManus "got" "2000 AD." He got its irreverence and satire, its sense of the absurd and bizarre, it unique British sensibility. You look at the covers during his run as editor, and they're full of weird-looking mutants, Dredd facing insurmountable odds, a real sense of excitement -- everything you want to make you pick up an issue. I feel he's one of the reasons, alongside the creators and characters, why "2000 AD" plugged into the zeitgeist in the early eighties, why people picked up the comic by the hundreds of thousands and saw that here was an anthology breaking free of the usual juvenile material and bringing something new, fresh and thrilling to the UK newsstand.

Is Grant Morrison's classic "Zenith" any closer to coming out in a collected edition? Are there any other 'holy grails' you've been trying to get out but have been unable to release?

We're no nearer to "Zenith" being collected, I'm afraid. We've looked into collecting the old "2000 AD" "Dan Dare" stories, as they feature a lot of rarely seen Dave Gibbons and Massimo Belardinelli artwork I think the fans would like to see again, but that's proved problematic, as the rights to "Dare" now rest with the Dan Dare Corporation.

Would a collected "Dan Dare" finally finish the cliffhanger from 30 years ago?

No, there'd be no new "Dare" material commissioned to wrap up the story. Best to leave the "2000 AD" "Dare" material as it was when it first appeared.

What is your favorite series during the past 35 years? You've told me before you are partial to the Steve Dillion "Judge Dredd" strips, specifically the tale where Dredd turns in to a werewolf. Which series do you think has been the most important to the book over the past 35 years?

Dredd is the most important strip. He's still the most popular character, and his collections are still the ones that outsell everything else. As for personal favorites: "Indigo Prime: Killing Time," "Strontium Dog: The Killing," "Slaine: Dragonheist," "Judge Dredd: The Apocalypse War" -- I could be here for some time.

Although it's been attempted in the past, you're the first EIC to really push to create headway in the American market, at least in a couple of decades. The American audience's embrace of "2000 AD" creators over the years, albeit on non-2000 AD projects, indicates that they don't object to the quality of the material inside the covers of "2000 AD." Why, then, do you think it's it been so difficult to crack that market?

I think the US market is geared around superheroes. That's what the majority of US readers like, so "2000 AD" is going to struggle to get their attention. The anthology format doesn't always carry well, either, but I think a lot of the hard work is getting the material under people's noses. If we can penetrate Diamond, get more books into the stores, get them on the racks, then we might see more readers trying it out

You've adjusted the size of the main book, revolutionized and streamlined the collected editions, introduced the monthly mini-trades in the "Megazine" and have even begun releasing smaller digest-sized Judge Dredd books. How important is the choice of format in the struggle to get new readers?

I don't know about getting new readers -- though the digest-sized Dredd books are aimed at the mass market -- but "2000 AD" collectors love to have their books formatted to the same size and design. It becomes a brand of sorts, the "2000 AD" design.

What was the idea behind the oversized "2000 AD Extreme" format from a few years ago? It obviously didn;t catch on, as it was discontinued...

The "Extreme Edition" was an attempt to put out a reprint comic that collected up stories that weren't getting the trade treatment. It never sold huge numbers, right from the beginning, and after thirty issues, it was decided to fold it into the "Megazine." So it became the mini-trades bagged each month with the "Meg." They still have the same remit -- to publish material too short or esoteric to get a book collection.

Since one of the big reasons behind this series of interviews is to celebrate three and a half decades of "2000 AD," I have to ask -- what are you guys doing to celebrate the magazine's 35th Anniversary? Are there any special stories, releases or events for the we may not know about yet?

Well, we've already had our 35th birthday party at the SFX Weekender in February, and the bumper anniversary prog came out on 22nd Feb. Expect to see some UK signings across the country over the coming months. There'll be a special "2000 AD" quiz at the Kapow! con in May with the winner getting to be Tharg for a day, then we'll be at San Diego where we'll be gearing up for the release of the "Dredd" movie in September.

We've got the "Art of Dredd" book coming out in September, a deluxe hardback reprinting some of the most iconic "2000 AD" Dredd covers from the past 35 years, with comments from writers and artists. And, of course, as you may have now heard we've partnered up with IDW to produce a brand-new Dredd comic for the US, with IDW also publishing hardback treasury editions of classic Dredd material.

The IDW deal is particularly interesting. How did it come about and what does Rebellion hope to accomplish with it?

It's been in discussion since fall last year. Rebellion has been keen to get more "2000 AD" material into US comic stores, and partnering with a publisher like IDW with its strong track record of licensed comics seemed ideal. IDW Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall has been enthusiastic about IDW licensing Dredd right from the start, and we were excited by his plans for our flagship character. With the "Dredd" movie coming out in September, now is the perfect time to reach as big an audience as possible, and IDW's Dredd comics will help consolidate that.

IDW also has the rights to publish classic Dredd material in hardback treasury editions. Rebellion will continue with its trade publishing program for the UK and US, aiming at the mass market, while IDW's collections will be aimed more at the collectors.

Is IDW working with you at all to recruit talent for their series?

IDW will be choosing the creators to work on the books, though they'll run them by me for approval. I believe a couple have been spoken to on a casual basis. I've had a few emails from writers keen to contribute.

Will these stories be in continuity?

They will be separate in continuity terms from the stories currently running in "2000 AD" and the "Judge Dredd Megazine." The key thing to bear in mind, I believe, is simplicity: any US reader who's never picked up a copy of "2000 AD" should be able to read an issue of the IDW Dredd comic and be able to get into it straight away. So that leaves the IDW creators free to come up with stories and use many of the Dredd supporting characters without the constraints of 35 years of continuity.

"2000 AD" is available every Wednesday in the UK and digitally around the world in CBZ and PDF formats every Friday at 2000adonline.com.

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