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Home ¦ Features ¦ Alan Grant interview part 1

Steve Parkhouse - A 2000 AD Review Interview
12th January 05
2000 AD - Alan Grant interview
Alan Grant
Interview by Edward Berridge

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.

After thirteen 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.

Alan Grant 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 Rennie.

Currently, 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.

What, 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. If
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 factory.

2000 AD - Alan Grant interview
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 all written
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 penny-pinching?

Difficult, because 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.

What prompted 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 involve barkeeping).

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 getting pished.

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.


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Original content (c) 2002 Gavin Hanly (contact 2000AD Review).