8:15am PT by Graeme McMillan
'2000 AD' Aims to Conquer the Universe With April Relaunch
This week saw the release of 2000 AD Prog 1924, the latest in a series of "jumping-on" points for the long-running British comic book anthology in part responsible for making the reputations of some of the biggest creators in the comic book industry, including Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and Dave Gibbons. With fan-favorite characters like Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog and Sláine returning with all-new stories alongside more recent strips like Orlok and Grey Area, the issue is the perfect entry point into what could be described as the most important comic book you've probably never heard of.
Admittedly, the self-styled "Galaxy's Greatest Comic" is slowly becoming better known in the U.S.; the 2012 Dredd movie certainly helped to raise its profile, and subsequent releases — including both new Dredd material and other stories reformatted into U.S.-format comic books — have built on that foundation.
"The U.S. is the biggest English-speaking market for comics, so we would widen our readership considerably if we could penetrate the U.S. market more," editor Matt Smith tells The Hollywood Reporter. "We know the characters and the creators would appeal to a lot of comics readers — fans of [Image Comics' hit] Saga would appreciate something like Nikolai Dante, for example, and anyone that picks up a Conan and Red Sonja title would like Sláine — and we've got an amazing roster of writers and artists on past stories that are big names in the U.S. [Morrison, Moore, Garth Ennis, Peter Milligan, Steve Dillon, Kevin O'Neill and so on] — but it's a matter of getting the recognition out there."
The decision to release material reformatted specifically for the U.S. market, Smith explains, was an experiment "to see if we can get past the [American] reticence to pick up an anthology," and it's one that appears to be working. "Ian Edginton and INJ Culbard's Brass Sun, for example, got far more notice and acclaim repackaged as a six-issue monthly U.S. series than it did when exactly the same material was published in 2000 AD." More series are planned, including current horror Western Ichabod Asrael and upcoming gladiatorial series Aquila.
The fact that 2000 AD and related titles are available digitally has helped the series grow as well. 2000 AD has been offering DRM-free digital editions since 2007, years ahead of the majority of mainstream U.S. publishers, and now has specific subscription apps for both iOS and Android devices — something that Smith says "immediately broadens the scope of our readership. Now anyone in the world can read the latest issue on the same day as it appears in the U.K." The lower overhead of digital means that chances can be taken on titles that might otherwise seem too risky, as well. "Producing digital-only graphic novels like the twin Red Seas collections becomes viable because you're not set to a specific print run. If there's not a big enough audience for a certain series to make a physical GN collection economically possible, then digital is the way to go," he says.
With Prog 1924 — the series has traditionally referred to issues as "progs" going back all the way to its start in 1977 — 2000 AD returns to its roots in a couple of ways. Firstly, it launches new series featuring a number of characters that have been around for decades, while also promoting creators like Arthur Wyatt and Jake Wyatt, who are relative newcomers to the industry.
"Having Sláine and Strontium Dog in a jumping-on prog gets the attention of the fans who may not have picked up 2000 AD recently," Smith admits, but adds that it also demonstrates what he describes as "the strength of the concepts, and the willingness of the creators to put the work in building their worlds." It helps, he says, that the concepts behind each strip are so easy to grasp. "All you need to know about the characters is right there on the page: Dredd is a zero-tolerance future cop, Strontium Dog is a mutant bounty hunter and Sláine is a Celtic warrior fighting demonic enemies who want to rule mankind."
When it comes to finding new voices to contribute stories, Smith suggests that it's a necessity of the 2000 AD format. "Filling 32 pages every week eats up strips, so you need a wide pool of talent," he says. "You get a more satisfying anthology experience if you've got five different voices all telling stories their own way. It's very gratifying when you find a new creator that's got something special and brings an extra flavor to the mix."
2000 AD Prog 1924 is available now.