¦ Features ¦ Alan
Grant interview part 1
Alan Grant is
one of the most prolific comic writers working in the UK today. Originally assistant
editor at 2000AD, he left to pursue a freelance writing career with writing partner
John Wagner. Together they wrote Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, Robo-Hunter and Ace
Trucking Co. for 2000AD; Doomlord, Joe Soap Private Eye, and Computer Warrior
for The Eagle; The Outsiders for DC; plus Nightbreed and The Last American for
Epic; and The Bogie Man series amongst many others.
years the partnership split, and Grant continued freelancing solo on titles as
varied as Detective Comics, Shadow of the Bat, Lobo, L.E.G.I.O.N’89, Legends
of the Dark Knight, and The Demon. More recently, he has provided the scripts
to Lego’s Rockraider film, the computer generated film Dominator, and the
BBC children’s series Ace Lightning.
was also so responsible for giving a break into comics for many artists and writers,
including Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, whilst his work has been
an acknowledged influence on writers such as Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis and Gordon
Grant writes Anderson Psi Division and Young Middenface for the Judge Dredd Megazine;
Robo-Hunter for 2000AD; and the upcoming sequel to The Authority/Lobo for DC/Wildstorm,
along with other highly secretive projects. He resides in Scotland, where he and
wife Sue organise the yearly Moniaive Comics Festival, which has rapidly become
Scotland’s premiere comics gathering.
if anything, would be an average working day for you?
I keep strange
hours. I usually start work about 10 o'clock at night, figuring out what I'll
be doing next day. All my proper thinking is done late at night--in fact, I commonly
used to work all night. But I
was younger then, and now I only manage till 2 or 3 in the morning.
Next day I get
up about 9, start typing whatever I came up with the night before. I work till
lunchtime; if things are going well, I work on till teatime. If they're not, I
generally take the afternoon off.
I try to find two
hours every day for physical work--chopping logs, walking the hills, digging the
garden. I have 8 acres to look after, and sometimes I figure I should become a
full time gardener and just write for 2 hours a day.
I usually try to
take Friday night/Saturday off, and I spend a day a week with my grandkids.
We're you a
comics reader as a child?
Yes. My housebound
grandmother taught me to read, aged 3, using the Beano and the Dandy. I guess
the first word I could read was AAARGH! or something similar.
(Aside: my granny
taught me how to write as well, so by the time I started school I was fairly well-advanced.
Unfortunately, I was naturally left-handed; in Scotland at that time it was official
policy to deter lefthandedness. My teacher belted me every day on my left hand
so I was forced to use my right; the fact that everything then came out like da
Vinci's mirror writing was merely reason for more child-battering. I have often
wondered if I'd have been a better writer if the teachers had left me alone, or
if indeed it was the daily battering that made me a writer in the first place.
Whatever, the experience left me with a lifelong hatred of all force-imposed authority
and may go a long way to explaining my anarchic politics.)
I have 2 younger
brothers, and --probably as a way of keeping us quiet-- my parents bought us a
full selection of comics every week: Beano, Dandy, Topper, Beezer, Buster, New
Hotspur, and Boys Own Paper. My mother's best friend had two daughters the same
age as me, and every Friday for years we religiously exchanged our week's worth
of comics for theirs: Judy, Bunty, Princess, Girl's Crystal, etc.
My Canadian cousin
used to send us the 'funny pages' from the US Sunday papers, as well as Batman
and Superman comics.
By the time I was
11, in first year at secondary school, I was ripe for Stan and Jack's new Age
of Marvel. I collected every Marvel comic I could until I was 17, when I eloped.
I was gone for a month, and returned to find that my youngest brother had sold
my entire comic collection in exchange for sweeties and money for glue-sniffing.
he'd only waited a few years, till the first issues of Fantastic Four, Spiderman,
Namor, Avengers and X-Men soared in value, he could have bought the whole glue
I believe your
first published work was Tarzan and The Sabre-Tooth Tiger in 1978 and became the
main writer for the European Tarzan series for two years. How did you come to
land this job?
My first published
work was actually 1966, when I was paid 2 guineas for writing the 'star letter'
in an edition of the Sunday Express. The letter was totally fictitious, but the
experience taught me I could earn money writing.
In 1967 I became
a sub-editor for DC Thompson in Dundee, moving to IPC in London in 1970. I had
a fairly successful extracurricular career writing 'true romance' text stories
for magazines like Loving, Love Affair (I also did a features column for this
mag), and True Romances (or True Confessions, it may have been). My stories were
from a female POV, and included "My Boyfriend was a Hell's Angel", "I
Stole to Have an Abortion" and "I threw my baby off the London train."
I went back to
college (and was expelled), university (expelled), and a series of jobs from which
I was always fired. I was living on £14 a week social security in a Dundee
ghetto when John Wagner (who I'd met while working with DC Thompson) told me he
was starting work for a proposed new science fiction comic (which would become
2000AD). Because of this John was unable to meet his existing commitments--making
up puzzles, and writing Tarzan for the same publisher. He asked if I felt I could
take over from him.
It was my ticket
out of Hell.
The publisher gave
me a test script to write, he liked it, and I wrote Tarzan on a monthly basis
for the next 2 or 3 years. (BTW: for any Wagner completists out there, John and
I co-wrote at least half a dozen, maybe more, 48-page Tarzan specials. The one
which stands out in memory was a spoof of the Wim Wenders' movie about hauling
a ship through the jungle. A series of characters based on our 2000AD colleagues
(Tom Frame, Robin Smith, Brian Bolland, McMahon, Steve Macmanus etc) was killed
off one at a time.
How did you
find working for DC Thompson, a publisher notorious for its frugality and claims
of my anti-authority feelings. But also mind-expanding, because it was there that
I learned almost all I know about publishing.
I started there
in 1968 on a starting salary of £9 per week. Everyone new was first placed
in the general Fiction Department, where the editors could figure out what you
were best at. The editors were very much hands-on, and were expected to furnish
a steady supply of story ideas to their writers.
My first job involved
pretending to be Gypsy Rose Lee, and writing the horoscopes for the Dundee evening
newspaper. John Wagner started there around the same time, and we ended up competing
to see who could get the most frightening horoscopes published. (E.g. LIBRA: There
is a very bleak aspect to your stars today. It might be safer to stay indoors.
Someone close to you may suffer an appalling accident.)
But the task I
prize most as actually teaching me what stories are all about was this: I was
handed a paperback book by my editor. He told me DCT were serialising the story
in the Evening Telegraph but it was too long. Could I cut it down, from 75,000
words to around 7,500 words. An amazing way to learn!
On the other side
of the coin, I was constantly in trouble with editors because of my attitude.
I was called before the board of directors several times-- once for coming to
work in an ankle-length WW2 greatcoat over high-heeled boots I sprayed silver
myself. They said it wasn't how they expected their employees to dress.
Apart from 2 weeks
summer holiday, the only day off was New Year's day (we had to work December 25th).
The pay was so bad I took a night job as a barman; when the board found out, they
threatened me with instant dismissal if I didn't pack the bar work in.
your move from DC Thompson to IPC, and how different did you find the institutions?
The move was prompted
by the above-mentioned instant dismissal (although for an offence which didn't
DCT and IPC were
chalk and cheese. Overnight I went from £12 a week with DCT to £45
from IPC. If I wrote freelance for any IPC publication, I was paid the going rate;
DCT employees had to sign a waiver stating that the company owned the copyright
on everything the employee wrote, whether in work time or personal time.
One thing was the
same for both companies, though: from senior editors down, lunchtimes were spent
Was it a brain-taxing job compiling puzzles for puzzle magazines?
Not really, although I ended up trying to make it so. I'd been compiling puzzles
for almost a year before I discovered how I was being paid for them: £1
flatrate per puzzle. This meant good money with, say, math puzzles, where I could
think up 20 or more an hour. But if I spent 4 hours compiling a crossword, I still
only got a quid.
In the end, out
of boredom, I started creating the most difficult puzzles I could, no doubt alienating
the readers. The publisher didn't notice--he could never do the puzzles anyway.