Forty years ago this week, something special happened. Something zarjaz.
This Sunday February 26 is the 40th anniversary of the first issue of 2000 AD, a comic book like no other.
It’s been a huge part of my life and of my identity as a journalist and storyteller – and I’m going to explain why.
Launched as a shameless cash-in on the expected popularity of Star Wars, due to be released later in 1977, it may have looked like a weekly comic for boys.
However, launch editor Pat Mills, having learned from the controversy surrounding hyper-violent comic Action in 1976, exercised subtlety and ended up influencing a generation with a punk-inspired anthology of science fiction adventures with a subversive edge.
The first issue was led by a reimagining of classic 1950s hero Dan Dare but, as the years flew by, 2000 AD hit us with dinosaurs, despots, detectives and more, with wisecracks and killings that would have horrified our parents if only they’d known.
Most famous of all is Judge Dredd, the character who began as a future cop and developed into a satire on Thatcher’s Britain, teaching us to question authority with hilarity, heartbreak and complicated, multilayered stories that continue today.
Mills, who quickly switched to freelance writing, was joined by some of comics’ greatest creators, like John Wagner (my all-time hero), Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Dave Gibbons and too many more to list here. Like cool uncles saying dangerous things, they popped up weekly to mess with our minds.
Sometimes it varied in quality but there was always the “prog” – short for programme – and, as the readers grew up, the comic grew up too, adding adult themes and even real swearing.
I still read and love every issue. I still know all its vocabulary like “zarjaz” (an alien superlative) and “drokk” (Dredd’s favourite expletive). I’ve met many fellow fans and they love it, too.
And it still informs the way I think. Ask questions. Place trust carefully. Resist injustice. Have a laugh.
I’m glad that, four decades later, 2000 AD is here for new generations. Everybody needs a little subversion in their lives.