The Basics:- The year is 1984. Your humble narrator is a mere eight years old. Every Friday, his grandmother comes round to visit armed with the standard accoutrements - chocolate bars (two of each kind so that The Brother and I do not fight), packets of crisps (again, two of each flavour, there'll be no favouritism in this house) and, lastly yet most importantly (for me), the week's comics. Up until then, it had been UK reprints of Marvel's Secret Wars and Return Of The Jedi comics. This week, though, there's something different in there. It's one she's not bought for me before but I'm fascinated. On the front cover is a man in what looks like a weird futuristic motorcycle helmet and he's turning behind him as he's about to be attacked by a huge alligator with its jaws spread wide, ready to snap. The man's name appears to "Judge Dredd" and the word "GATOR!" in emblazoned in large, startling letters on the cover. It's Prog 384 of something called 2000AD* and this simple act of grandmotherly kindness will tip a small boy's idle comic reading habit into a monstrous comic-collecting beast...
Why's It So Great Then?:- Quite simply, it's probably the most influential comic of the last 30 years. Without it, the current crop of highly acclaimed British writers and artists working in mainstream US comics would, in all likelihood, not have been pushed into the limelight and you wouldn't have had ground-breaking comics such as Watchmen without it (Alan Moore, the writer of Watchmen, got his first real break in 2000AD). It also has the advantage of being an anthology comic, showcasing around five serialised stories each issue, lasting about 7 or 8 pages per chapter, which means it's able to keep fresh and varied over the years. It's the only serious British comic still running - the British comics industry these days consisting mainly of US reprints or cartoon tie-ins. 2000AD has also brought us some truly iconic characters - Judge Dredd** being the most recognisable, especially after being specially ruined for the big screen by Sylvester Stallone but special mention must go to characters such as Rogue Trooper, Strontium Dog, Nemesis The Warlock, ABC Warriors, The Ballad Of Halo Jones, D.R. & Quinch and more. Most importantly, I guess, and this is probably what's kept it going so long - it's run through with a strongly British sensibility and sense of humour that's never really deserted it.
Surely Some Of It Must Be Rubbish:- Sadly, yes, sometimes it can deliver a duff tale or go through the odd ropey patch (there's nothing worse than having to sit through a couple of months of all stinkers). And when it delivers a real clunker, they can be unbearably stinky. Being an anthology title, this is always the risk - you never know what you're going to get. This is also a plus point, however - it's a reasonably safe bet that if you're plowing through a dodgy patch that an upswing is in the offing at some point.
So We Should Seek Out This Thing Of Which You Speak?:- If you're in any way a fan of comics then there are some 2000AD collections you should definitely pick up (fortunately, they tend to reprint a lot of serials in nice handy to read graphic novels). The Ballad Of Halo Jones is a good starting point but you can't go far wrong with Nemesis The Warlock (cracking artists and some insane storylines), Ace Trucking Co., RoboHunter or D.R. & Quinch (if you're in the mood for something more light-hearted) and, naturally, there's always room for the adventures of everyones favourite fascist bully-boy, Judge Dredd - the Case Files are currently reprinting them year by year in order and thoroughly enjoyable they are, too. Splundig Vur Thrigg!
* Sadly, I'm not quite geeky enough to remember that off the top of my head. I went to the boxes until I found the issue in question.
** The futuristic fascist, not the reggae artist. He's spelt differently.