Smith Brings the UK to the USA

Matt Smith has been editing "2000 AD" for nearly a decade, as well as overseeing its sister publication, "Judge Dredd Megazine." He recently took some time to sit down with CBR News and gave a wide-ranging discussion on his career and the books and characters he oversees.For the uninitiated, "2000AD" is a UK-based, weekly comic anthology created by John Wagner and Pat Mills in 1977. It is the home of such creations as "Judge Dredd," "The Ballad of Halo Jones," "Zombo," "Rogue Trooper" and many more. The Editor-In-Chief job is held by Tharg the Mighty, an inside joke and position held by Pat Mills, Alan Grant and Andy Diggle, among others. Each weekly issue, called a "prog," showcases several different comics and has featured a veritable who's who of British talent including Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Chris Weston, Brian Bolland and a multitude of others. With an ongoing attempt to crack the US book market, an upcoming big-budget film adaptation of "Judge Dredd" and a multitude of projects in stores all over the world every single week, Smith had a lot to share with CBR.

CBR News: "2000AD" has been popular for decades in England, but has never had as large of a following in the United States. What made you decide to have your first booth at New York Comic Con this year?

Matt Smith: We heard good things about it and we have been attending Comic-Con International: San Diego for the past four years or so and it's always gone really well. There's been lots of interest in "2000AD" and "Judge Dredd" and a lot of US fans have been saying how hard it is to get the comics over here, so they're always pleased to see it and get a hold of the books. We've done great in San Diego and figured we'd try New York.

We're also promoting the new line of US-only graphic novels, which we are getting in to US bookstores, so we are giving people a chance to get a hold of those books [at this show].

It's been going really well. "Judge Dredd: Case Files 01" has been selling really well and we released a new version of "The Ballad of Halo Jones" by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson that sold out its print run almost immediately. It's a book that's been out there for almost 25 years and it's quite well known, so it's surprising it's sold out so quick, but anything Alan Moore does tends to do quite well. We are aiming to use, in the new line, writers and artists that are more well-known in the US.

We are doing a range of Judge Dredd books called "Mega-City Masters" that focuses on bigger names like John Wagner, Mark Millar, Brian Bolland, Alan Davis - all people with a high profile in the States. We're mixing up some of the more classic stuff, like when Dave Gibbons drew Dredd back in the day, with more current stuff. To give a sense that "2000AD" isn't just about what had been going on in the 1980s, but that there's lots of stuff going on now.

Any movement on the US version of "2000AD" that was mentioned to CBR at Comic-Con International in San Diego this year?

No, it's an idea that's often been booted around, collecting "2000AD" stories in a 22-page or even 32-page format to get in to US comic shops because "2000AD" has a spotty distribution. It's weekly and doesn't always filter through to the US comic stores, but at the moment we have decided to concentrate more on the graphic novel releases in the US.

You've been Editor-In-Chief of "2000AD" for almost a decade, correct?

I've been EIC for "2000AD" for about nine years. I took over the "Judge Dredd Megazine" editing in about 2006, so I've been editing all the different "2000AD" titles for about ten years. It's not the first time someone's editing both of them, but I've probably been doing it the longest.

You inherited the EIC title from Andy Diggle, who is now a prolific writer in the US comics scene. Do you have any similar plans to pursue writing?

It's not my career plan, but it is generally the career path for ex-"2000AD" editors to become freelance writers. Andy Diggle did it, David Bishop before him and of course Alan Davis and Pat Mills were both editors of "2000AD." I've done a couple of novels on the side and done some comic script writing, but it's not something I'm planning to do just yet.

What's coming up in "2000AD?"

The repercussions of the recently completed 'Tour of Duty' story arc in "Judge Dredd" will carry on for quite some time because John Wagner's keen on the soap opera elements where a story builds and you can see the machinations of what's going on. As far as Dredd goes, that's the ongoing future.

We've got some new stories coming up in "2000AD" as well. We've got the return of "Flesh," the cowboys in dinosaurs times where dinosaurs are shipped back to the future as meat. Pat Mills has returned to do that; it's a classic series. The artist is a guy named James McKay whose done a lot of work for the European market, some French graphic novels, but this is the first thing he's done for "2000 AD". It's going to be printed in black and white and very much be in the vein of the original series [published in 1977].

We are also building towards the release of the "Judge Dredd" film, which begins shooting in a month or so's time in South Africa and is slated for release possibly towards the end of 2011 or beginning of 2012. It's going to be in 3D, so there's going to be a lot of post-production on it. I imagine we'll be flagging all our Dredd comics and graphic novels to push the character for the release of the film. That's the big project outside the comic books that we're looking forward to. There's also interest in other "2000AD" properties as well, but I can't say what they are. There have been a couple of licenses picked up, though. It's looking towards movies.

We've got a deal with 3A Toys, Ashley Wood's company, and they've just done an action figure of Tharg, the alien editor of "2000AD," and that's gone done very well. The first run of that sold out as soon as it was released and the next one will be Mongrel, from "The ABC Warriors" robots. [Ashley's] going through all these various "2000AD" characters he wants to release, so it's looking good.

Talk about Tharg, the alien editor of "2000AD" who introduces every issue a bit. Are you actually the one who writes what he say? How do you get in to character?

I started as the assistant to Andy [Diggle] and I was quite keen to do a bit of writing, so he was happy to let me write the Tharg speak right from the beginning because he always found it hard to find new things to write in every issue. I just write in this verbose style and it's quite easy to get in to. It's quite good to hide behind Tharg. He's a good figurehead if any of the readers ever ask any tough questions, we can just have Tharg gloss over them!

We've got this Tharg mask that was made and it's just been sitting around the office so we dig it out at some of the British conventions and pretend that Tharg's visiting. He's good to have that kind of sense of humor, especially for the comic, it keeps it from getting too serious or grim. It's something that's never really gone out of fashion.

Do you have any US talent coming up at all in "2000AD" or "Judge Dredd Megazine"?

No, not that I know of. Guy Davis just did a "Judge Dredd" strip for "Judge Dredd Megazine" last year and that was the last American artist to work with us.

Any future plans to work with Guy Davis again?

Possibly, yeah. He was very keen on doing some Dredd and it was a case of Rob Williams, when he wrote the script, he said, 'I'd really like Guy Davis to draw it,' so he got me in touch with [Davis.] We are always open for US writers and artists to get in touch. If anybody submits stuff that's good, we'll use them.

What's your ultimate goal for the US-expansion? Is it just to bring attention to, and better distribution for, the weekly "2000AD" comic, or are large plans afoot?

It'd be nice if we got the comic over here for people to pick up. We've now got the digital downloads off the website so people can get the actual issues the week after they're released in the UK, so technically they're available. It's just a matter of building the comic's profile to the point where it's known as much as any US publisher or comic title. It means that more and more people will be interested in licensing properties and seeing more movies and more TV deals. We want more of a global brand and not something that's just seen as a UK thing. We want to get the title out there as much as we can.

Right now, you are distributing through Diamond Comic Distributors. How is that relationship, are they supportive of the title?

Yeah, they recently changed things so now "2000AD" goes over in monthly packs so it means you can get four issues at once, without ones going off here, there and everywhere and you end up missing an issue. It still seems that we struggle to get "2000AD" over there as much as we like, but [Diamond] keeps working to plug us. Also, our trade list has expanded so much over the last two or three years that we have built up quite a library that we can get into stores.

Do the makers of the "Judge Dredd" movie have a working relationship with you as the EIC of "2000AD" and "Judge Dredd Megazine?" Are you consulted about the creative components of the film?

I was given a copy of the script - this was way before it leaked online and everybody read it - and I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement. This was 2009 or so, and I read it and made some notes. I emailed producer Andrew McDonald [of DNA Films] and Alex Garland, who wrote it, my various comments on the script; whether I felt it was in keeping with the comic strip or any other suggestions. They called me down to London and I had a meeting with them to discuss it, but ever since then I haven't had much contact with them. Jason Kingsley, who is the CEO of Rebellion [owners of "2000AD"], is one of the producers of the film and he's been more in touch with them. Dredd belongs to Rebellion; they own the rights to the character.

[Judge Dredd and "2000AD" co-creator and writer for over 30 years] John Wagner has been in touch with Alex Garland since the script's been written, so he's been kept in the loop on actor choice and various things like that. It's all looking like it's going to be made by people who want to make a good Dredd film that's very much in keeping to the comic, very true to it.

So what's your opinion of the script? What were some of the notes you had?

My initial impression was that it's certainly never dull and it's very grim and very brutal. It's going to be a very dark film.

Will there be any of the dark humor that Dredd is famous for?

Yeah, Dredd's got a very terse, straight-faced demeanor through it. He's teamed up with Anderson in the film; she's just a cadet out of her teens. She's a Psi [a Judge who uses telepathic abilities] and is on her last chance. She's going to be booted out of the academy unless she proves herself on this patrol with Dredd. She has to toughen up when she's faced with what they're up against and Dredd's sort of this stern guiding force in it.

Will Dredd and Anderson kiss in the end, like the infamously out of character kiss between Dredd and Hershey at the end of the original "Judge Dredd" film?

No, no, no, no kissing. No taking off of the helmet, none of that stuff.

No Rob Schneider?No, no, no, no! There's very little broad comedy in it actually. There are plans to do a lot of the sort of Mega-City flavor in the background, there's obviously going to be a lot of CGI.

Will we see any of the cursed earth, the area outside Mega-City One?

No, it's fairly self-contained and city-based. It's very focused and very direct, going for a near-future feel, rather than some of the out-there or comical aspects of the comic.

How do you feel about the casting of Karl Urban as Judge Dredd?

I thought it was a good choice. He was slightly younger than I thought they were going to go for, I thought they were going to go for Dredd in his 50s, to show the difference between Dredd and Anderson. But yeah, I think he's got a good chin for it and he's obviously a fan from what he's said and he wants to do the character justice. He knows the comic; he read it when he was younger.

Is "2000AD" popular in Australia, where Karl Urban is from?

It's one of the countries outside of the UK and the US that gets it. Australia and New Zealand, those are the main territories. The Australians tend to be more in tune with the anthology format of it than the Americans. They've got more of a newsstand culture.

How old were you when you started reading "2000AD?"

13? 12 or 13? Around 1985 until now. Never stopped reading it.

Did you always want to work for "2000AD"?

I never imagined what I would do! I've always been interested in writing. I graduated in English literature and creative writing and my first proper job was working for a book publisher. Then [2000AD] advertised a job for an assistant back in 2000 and I just went for it. I got the job and 18 months later became the editor. It's quite amazing; I never imagined I'd be here.

Did Diggle leave to pursue writing full-time when you were promoted to EIC?

Yeah, he had decided he had had enough and wanted to pursue a freelance writing career. He had written the character Lenny Zero for the Megazine with Jock and it gave him a taste, so by the end of it, in November 2001, he resigned as editor and I stepped up to take over.

What are your favorite strips in "2000AD?"

Judge Dredd remains my favorite character. Over the years, the writing and the art have been phenomenal. I just love the dry wit and sense of black humor that John Wagner brings to the world and to the character. He's my favorite and I'm quite interested in where the characters going to go, John tends to keep his cards quite close to his chest so you don't always know what's going to happen. The first I know about it is when a script comes through. For the [recently completed] "Tour of Duty" storyline he pretty much just said, 'I'm thinking of taking Dredd out to the cursed earth, I'm going to exile him for a certain period of time,' and I thought, 'Oh great!' so I had to plan ahead for that.

If Wagner proposes an epic Judge Dredd story and just tells you, 'I'm going to have a really long epic,' and you as the editor have to create other stories and marketing around his scripts as they come, how do you handle something like that?

["Tour of Duty"] ended up being 39 episodes, which is the longest Dredd story ever. Normally with any other series I'll ask a writer how long it's going to be so I can plan it and schedule backwards. You work out when the last episode is going to come in and then work backwards to see when you should start it. With Dredd it's not always easy to know when it's going to finish, so it's a different story. John kind of gives me an idea as to how long he thinks it will be and then I work towards that. I might have to bring in other artists to work and keep the stories going.

Does Wagner get any input as to who draws his stories?

Often, yeah. He asked if Carlos [Ezquerra] could draw the last arc of the "Tour of Duty" storyline. Often he'll write a story with a particular artist in mind, but most of the time I'll just choose an artist who's available for the story. I'm always interested to know where Dredd's going to go.

What are some other favorite "2000AD" characters?

"Strontium Dog" has taken an exciting new turn in that he has come back from the dead. He was killed off in 1990 and all "Strontium Dog" stories set after that have all been flashbacks, but then John [Wagner] said, 'I've got a hankering for bringing [series star] Johnny Alpha back to life.' I think he felt constrained because, since the character was dead, he could never really take him anywhere with the flashback stories. So he came up with a way that was satisfying enough to bring him back and we had "The Life and Death of Johnny Alpha" storyline that ran this year, and that final episode ended with him seemingly resurrected. John's still going to write the next series to say what Johnny will be like; is he the same guy and what's going to happen.

What other upcoming stories are you excited about?

We're building up in the autumn now to the Christmas issue, prog 2011, which is the hundred-page issue. We've got the start of a new series of "Kingdom," the post-apocalyptic series and "Shakara," which is the final series of that, starting in prog 2011. That comes out the 15th of December, I believe. The series that starts then is the 5th and final series called "Shakara: Avenger," and will wrap it all up in one 14-part epic. It goes completely mad; it's quite a long series.

"Shakara" is a fan-favorite for both its breathtaking visuals by Henry Flint and its insane sci-fi plots. Will this be the end of "Shakara?"

It will probably be the final end of "Shakara" in total. In the last few episodes it just goes mad. Entire galaxies and planets exploding, massive extinction stuff. Yeah, that shouldn't be missed and Henry Flint is doing amazing artwork, he's about half way through drawing it now.

Henry Flint seems to have turned in to one of superstar "2000 AD" artists in the last few years.

He is, yeah, he's incredible. It's always been amazing that he hasn't been picked up more for America, really. He did "The Haunted Tank" mini-series that Vertigo put out last year or so. He's an incredible artist and always really strong for whatever he draws. He's somebody else who grew up on "2000AD" and it's in his DNA. What he draws is basically based on what he's been reading for the past 30 years; he's very much an archetypal "2000 AD" artist with a sense of weirdness and action and humor.

Do you have anything you can tease for readers?

We have the return of "Indigo Prime," which is a sort of weird, multi-dimensional series that ran in "2000AD" back in the early '90s, written by John Smith and drawn by Chris Weston. It's going to be drawn by Edmund Bagwell who drew the horror series "Cradlegrave" that ran in "2000AD" last year. John Smith has a very bizarre, warped, fertile imagination. This new "Indigo Prime" series is very out there, very massive, widescreen, weirdness. I've been itching to get "Indigo Prime" back in the comic ever since I became editor. John's got a long series planned for that, so it'll be going for a while.

Other than bringing back "Indigo Prime," do you have any other long-term goals as EIC?

I'd like to get Steve Dillon back drawing a Dredd in "2000AD." "Cry of the Werewolf" is probably my favorite ever story in "2000AD," a Judge Dredd story back from 1984, drawn by Steve Dillon, where werewolves come up from the under city and Dredd has to go down and destroy them. Dredd gets bitten, though, and he turns in to a werewolf himself and it's got a wonderful cover where Dredd goes, 'I am the laaaah' as he turns in to a werewolf. It's got everything. It's fast paced, it's got humor and Steve does wonderful artwork. I've got a couple of the original pages hanging up at home, actually. That's always been my favorite story and I'd love to get Steve back.

I'd like to get Garth Ennis to come back and do something, either for "2000AD" or "Judge Dredd Megazine." I've asked him if he fancies pitching in the odd Dredd here or there. He's such a fan of the character and he feels like he didn't do it justice enough when he was the regular writer on it.

Ennis' work on Dredd was fantastic! The "Judgment Day" storyline he wrote where all the dead of Mega-City One come back to life and attack the city is one of the best Judge Dredd stories ever told.

Yeah, I thought it was great! I think he feels beholden to the character to get it right, so he's always politely declined my invitations to do it again. He's one of my favorite creators, I loved "Preacher" and "Hitman" and I'm reading "The Boys" and "Crossed." He's a good guy and I'd like to get him doing something.

What has been your proudest moment as EIC?

Oh, blimey! Well I always feel I'm not the one to congratulate myself, it's always down to the writers and artists and I'm always aiming to get the perfect prog. You get five stories where everything nicely balances and they have individual arcs. I'm always aiming for that and in a couple of issues I think I've accomplished that. I want to keep people enjoying it, that's my goal.

One particular proud moment was "Origin," the story of how Judge Dredd and the Judges came to be, which was published when I was editor. It was something that had been rumored and booted around for years and it had always been suggested that when John Wagner wrote it he'd retire because it would be the final story. When the first episode of "Origins" came through my e-mail from John, I thought, this is going to be the high point of my career.

Did you get nervous that Wagner really would retire after the story arc?

Well, yeah. Obviously, John is the voice of Dredd and I don't want to see him go, but there will come a time that he's had enough of writing it. Fortunately, he's still doing it and still writing great stuff. "Origins" wasn't the end of [Judge Dredd], but it was a high point for me. It was history in the making, I felt.

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