Sunday, 26 November 2017

Interview with Pat Mills – Part 1

Chris McAuley, comic and game blogger talks to Pat Mills, in the first of a series of posts that we are delighted to present on the Sector House 13 Blog.

There’s very little that needs to be said about the titanic figure in the comic book industry that is Pat Mills.  A varied career, his influence has touched the majority of comic book aficionados and casual readers across the globe at some point in their lives. With the release of his latest project – “Be Pure!  Be Vigilant! Behave!”, ‘The Secret History of 2000AD’ he attempts and succeeds at lifting the lid off the difficulties and triumphs of his career.

I thought it would be an opportune moment to grab a bottle of wine, Tesco’s finest Chianti and have a chat with Pat, try to bring out some more about his illustrious career and listen to his opinions on the industry in general and 2000AD in particular.

Chris: Pat, I want to start by asking you to describe your latest Project, what is “Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!”? How did the idea to write it come about?

Pat: From a general point of view, I’ve tried to make it accessible to a large audience, in other words, here’s the story of 2000AD, but obviously, it’s going to have to appeal to 2000AD fans.  With the fans in mind, I would describe it an antidote to Bullshit.

I think it’s inevitable when a comic has been going for a long while, just like an old photograph, important people related to the genesis and development of the comic get whitened out, to the point that it’s hard to perceive them and to truly appreciate what they brought to the various areas of the comic.

So I think that the book will appeal and work on a number of levels

There are a few main reasons I decided to write The Secret History of 2000AD

There are comic book characters from 2000AD that consciously, or unconsciously have been removed from the comic. Finn, for example, is a case in point, also there are those character creators and developers who have been pushed out of 2000 AD’s history, the person who comes foremost to my mind regarding this, and one that fans will have the most sympathy for, is Gerry-Finley Day. So that’s my antidote to bullshit.

MIA since 1996, Pat's techno-witch Finn.
As much as I love the documentary Future Shock, I found myself watching back and wondering “Why am I the only one to be saying these slightly edgy things” and considering that, I decided Fuck it I’m going to write this book and bring it all out anyway. 

They needed to promote it in America, it’s all about the British invasion of America, the pitch is – “If these guys hadn’t been involved in 2000AD, various things like Watchmen etc would never have happened.  My first thought on that is – well… so fucking what, the documentary should be about 2000AD and instead it’s a sort of a form of palliative for an American audience.  I’ve actually had American fans ask me “Why is this so skewed towards us?” I mean, whatever happens in Marvel and DC is completely separate to what happened or happens in 2000AD.

To give an example of this, take Alan Moore, with Watchman, I believe he would have come up with the idea for it, even if he had never worked for 2000AD.  So I don’t accept this idea, flattering as it is on one level – “Wow all these science fiction films, they are all connected with 2000AD”

I’m sure Alan would have got Watchmen off the ground and I’m sure he would find himself in DC comics without 2000AD, in fact you might even argue that he would have got there quicker! He was already working for Warrior, before he came along to 2000AD.  So that’s another example of bullshit.  These are the kind of things I try to put right in the book, without getting into too much detail, even things like, How Dredd was created – I think… maybe fans might prefer it, if this really was some form of simplistic bullshit you see sometimes.

I read somewhere, some fan was saying, Dredd was inspired by Clint Eastwood, well, if only it were that bloody simple!  The whole process of creating characters is long, painful and in the British comic book industry, financially – it’s a nightmare and so I think that needed correcting as well.

Now whether that’s something that people want to read about or know, I’m not sure, I mean…for example all my favourite authors, when I was reading them, in my teens and twenties and thirties, perhaps to my shame, I had no interest in who they were, or what they did, or how they came up with stories. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller for example, I was never curious about it, I thought “Hey it’s a great book” but I think I’m in a minority there.

So it’s all those reasons [why the book was written], to really get under the bonnet of what 2000AD is about.

Chris: When I was watching the documentary myself, I noticed that Neil Gaiman was quite prominently featured in it.  I think he maybe had one Future shock published in 2000AD? He was also blocked from writing in 2000AD wasn’t he?

Pat: I’ll correct you on that, he produced four future shocks.

Chris: Ah, Right, Ok

Pat: Now prior to getting them out, he was blocked, there’s no doubt about it and certainly… Alan Moore was blocked and Grant Morrison was blocked.  That’s one of the things I explore in the book, Why, why there was the blocking of certain Authors and creative talent.  I think it comes down ultimately to, for want of another word, conservatism in the British comic industry and therefore there’s a fear of the new.

So, if you think of all the weird and wacky artists that I introduced in 2000AD, now they are the accepted norm, if you like.  You imagine if an artist with an alternative style such as Kevin O’Neill came into 2000AD tomorrow and they [2000 AD management] had never seen anything like it before.  The chances of them getting into 2000AD, I can tell you, would be Zero!

I think it’s sad in a way, because one of the things that I like in Science Fiction and I think that it’s one of its strengths, or at least it should be, is that it makes your brain flexible to alternatives, so you start thinking about alternative worlds, alternative points of view.  But with 2000AD if a really alternative artist came in tomorrow, I can tell you, from my experience of trying to bring them forward it don’t happen!

The trend is towards conservatism and unfortunately, I suppose you could say, that we are paying a price, even to this day for some of the wild eccentricities of the late 1980’s and through the 1990’s. In other words, that was such a bitter experience that I think it means people have moved back to a form of “Let’s play it safe”, “Let’s dampen things down”.  But at the end of the day, that’s deeply…I don’t know, about the British national character but it’s certainly in the British comic industry national character.

“Play it safe”

Chris: Pat, you certainly bring all this and more out in the book, I did go out and buy Dave Bishops interpretation of the history of 2000AD [Thrill Power Overload] and found it sterile…very sterile

Pat: In the book, I try and do that Devil’s Advocate kind of thing, one of the things that happens, and is actually unique to , well… I think it’s unique to Science Fiction comics and fandom.  Because that doesn’t exist in other comic genres, it didn’t exist when I was doing Battle or Action or Misty.  You will get any number of people who will…  Impose their views on you. 

So I mention this in the book, where I was given this letter before the comic [2000AD] came out, so I actually put a sign up over my office door which said “Piss off all Heavy Metal Fans” [An American Fantasy comic, not the music genre]

Moebius art from 1981 - could Mega-City One have influenced Metal Hurlant?

There were some of them who kept coming in and saying “Oh No!, you should be doing it like this, look at Moebius, you should be doing it like that!”  I just got fucked off with them, the reason I mention that is that… I suspect..  That David [Bishop] got an avalanche of people, telling him how 2000AD should be and that pressure, I suspect, reached him, I expect that’s what happened. The net result is, that you end up being conservative and it’s a very small step from being conservative to being sterile.

That’s my guess and I can understand it, in some ways.

Chris: Just touching on my original question again, was there any specific reason that prompted you to put pen to paper, other than the fortieth Anniversary of 2000AD?

Pat: Well, I had originally been asked to do a book on, actually, the whole history of comics, or the ones I had been involved with, what you might call, The Comic Revolution – Battle, Action, 2000AD and Misty, as far back as 2004.  I wrote the sample chapter and a pretty detailed outline, the idea got so far, the publisher Random House were going to do it. Then their marketing department said that they didn’t think anyone would be interested, so the idea kind of lay there, collecting dust for quite some while.  I really felt that this needed to be written, not just for the fortieth birthday, but also because I actually like the process of independent publishing. I think it’s a very good way forward and I thought, yeah, let’s make this my second indie book.

Chris: Throughout the opening of the book we get a good sense of the influences which conspired to give most of your work it’s subversive, satirical edge.  Are there continuing influences in your life which still prompt this style of work?

Pat: (Pat Laughs)

Chris: This is a bit of an interesting question, I thought you might like this one

Pat: Well, I think there’s no hope for me, it’s almost like I don’t need any more influences. There probably was a time, when any number of influences, would have made a difference to me.  I suppose if there’s one single influence on me today, it would be the negative nature of the British Media, whether it’s in the stuff on television or in books or whatever.  I can’t wrap this up in a nice way, we are regularly lied to and not in a minor way, not just as something that’s as transparent as the newspapers. We are lied to all the time, so an influence on me is to think, okay, I need to tell the truth here, I need to find a way…So the nastier, the more awful some of these things are, the more they kind of inspire me to write something… critical really.  Yeah I think that’s how it works for me!

From Battle Action 200, the first appearance of Charley's War
Chris: I can completely understand that, just on a personal note, Charley’s War, I’ve read the first Omnibus three times now.

Pat: Yeah… I saw that!

Chris: It opened up my eyes to a lot regarding the First World War.  Locally there’s a bit of a monument, a place where a bunker is erected with barbed wire and the enactment of the soldiers going over the top is now an annual part of the commemoration of World War 1. In my mind there’s a lot of whitewashing regarding World War One regarding patriotism and what patriotism means…I believe that the men and women who were conscientious objectors and the men who were shot cruelly by their officers because they exhibited the natural instinct to get the hell away from the shooting and the death, need to be recognised.

Throughout Charley’s War, throughout that omnibus, I was watching some characters, that were so carefully crafted and Pat it was your craftmanship and I can see the horrors of that conflict through that story.  It’s a fantastic piece of work, I really feel that it should be continuously promoted

Pat: Thank you very much! Incidentally, if you are not familiar with Britian’s Last Tommy from the trenches, Harry Patch. You are in for a treat, because what you described… he died .. I believe a few years ago and was 111 years old, you will be overjoyed to know that Britain’s last Tommy, he had seen everything you described in the trenches – He was a Pacifist!

His advice to young men was – “Don’t join the Army”

Chris, you mentioned about Men and Women, it’s actually one of the things I am considering for my next project, it’s the story about a man and a woman whose narrative is as exciting as Batman, Judge Dredd, Slaine… so that’s what I’d like to do next, but we will see!

Chris: That’s an interesting point, because I know in the book, you mention protagonists, that are naturally looked up to, real life characters that we can look up to – rather than fictional superheroes.

Pat: There’s a wealth of great real life stories which could be adapted into fictional characters, but we are deprived of them, because the majority of fictional heroes, certainly outside 2000AD are members of the ruling class!

Chris: Yeah!

Pat: Or members of the upper middle class, you know… whether it’s James Bond, Sherlock Holmes… whoever and … that’s fair enough. But I certainly needed as a kid or as an adult, as a role model, people who behave well and heroically in adversity, whom I can personally identify with. They don’t have to be Sir Percy Blakeney or written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle etc etc.

And that's it for now, Chris is hard at work preparing the next part of his interview with Pat Mills along with the final installment of his conversation with Glenn Fabry, both of which will be appearing here very soon.

Huge thanks to both Chris and Pat for permission to include this interview here.

You can find details of Pat's self-published books on his Millsverse web-site including his latest publication, a collected edition of  his collaboration with Tony Skinner and artist Dave Kendall from the nineties comic Toxic.


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