2000AD has always had pretensions to a certain degree of cool in its relationship to serious music. It was conceived and born with a snarling, gesticulating punk sensibility. The aborted ‘Comic Rock’ series that I mentioned last month was a worthy attempt to create strips inspired by tracks such as The Jam’s Going Underground. Tharg once revealed himself to be a fan of Captain Beefheart, and over the years the comic has experimented with occasional music review pages. Scott Ian of Anthrax and Geoff Barrow of Portishead are professed fans of paper prog, and 2000AD is such a foundational and multi-connected nexus point of British popular culture that I’m sure it has influenced many, many more of our most talented musicians.
I, however, am not renowned for my musical taste or knowledge. I’m writing this blog post on my birthday, so drokk it – if I want to reveal my complete lack of muso cred then, today of all days, I’m going to do so. There are a few bits of music that put me in a 2000AD frame of mind, and sometimes I’ll even listen to them when I’m thumbing through back issues. They’re not so embarrassing. Gorillaz and Blondie are the main ones, I think because I was listening to both a lot around the years 2000 and 2001, which was when I started collecting and reading the prog again as an adult. Both have a sort of link to the comic – Gorillaz through Jamie Hewlett, and Blondie as Debbie Harry was supposedly an inspiration for the creation of Judge Cassandra Anderson. I also like to listen to Paul Leonard Morgan’s Dredd movie soundtrack, and a compilation album of movie soundtracks that was once given away with EMPIRE magazine (which includes Down to the River to Pray from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, Hans Zimmer’s The Battle from Gladiator and the theme from the year 2000 version of Get Carter). Fairly eclectic, if relatively mainstream, huh? But there’s an artist even more formational for me; someone who, in my unsophisticated mind, is inseparable from The Galaxy’s Greatest Comic and all it will ever mean to me. Yes, you guessed it, that person is Sheena Easton.
You see, this issue of 2000AD, Prog 174, cover-dated 23 August 1980 and coincidentally featuring a Terror Tube Terminator a bit tattier but otherwise much the same as that on the aforementioned ‘Comic Rock’ issue, is my precious, sacred, revered, first ever issue. I love it. I had just turned – or was just about to turn – ten years old, and my mum bought it for me during a trip to the shops in my home town of Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire. I don’t recall the actual buying of it, but my earliest memory is of standing between some racks of clothes towards the back a department store (not Marks and Spencer, as it wasn’t built yet, but in roughly the same part of South Street that it now stands – for anyone that knows the town, and is also, for some reason, interested), soaking up the raw thrill power with hungry, fascinated eyes while Mum did her shopping. The shop’s radio was playing either Modern Girl (released February 1980) or 9 to 5 (released May 1980) – one of the two, I can’t actually remember which because they’ve come to occupy similar, possibly time-fused, nodes in my memory. The first story in this issue of the comic was The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World, Kelvin Gosnell’s adaptation of Harry Harrison’s pulpy time-travelling space opera, drawn absolutely brilliantly by the supernaturally-talented Spanish druid Carlos Ezquerra, and the star of this instalment was Slippery Jim DiGriz’s wife, Angelina. Who looked remarkably – almost inseparably – like Sheena Easton. Cue some sort of lightning strike of zarjaz thrill power upon the primordial surfaces of my impressionable sensory receptors, and a foundational association was forged in my mind. Na na na na na, Na na na na na, Na na na na na, She’s a modern girl.
Sheena’s not my only memory, of course. This is a great issue for other reasons. I recall sitting in the car on the journey home, poring over the first part of the cut-out-and-keep ‘Galactic Olympics’ booklet. That Laser Slalom image appalled and delighted me, and I probably kept it hidden from my parents when asking for 2000AD to be reserved for me from that prog on. Actually, in my memory I’d always thought that this booklet was drawn by Kevin O’Neill, but I’ve just noticed today that the artist was Steve Maher – his only work for 2000AD, although this excellent interview with Toonhound reveals some interesting work by Maher ghosting humour artists such as Leo Baxendale and Mike Lacey on other IPC comics around this time.
Judge Dredd was approaching the end of ‘The Judge Child’ saga (one of the few Dredd mega-epics that I’ve yet to read in its entirety, mainly because this was my first experience of the strip, meaning it holds some sort of special status for me and so it’s a treat I’ve been saving up for a rainy day – I’ll probably get down to it when it’s released as part of The Mega Collection partwork series, with a Sheena playlist cued-up on Spotify). In this episode, Joe, Hershey and the gang encounter the sinister-looking Rinus Limpopop Quintz, galactic travelling salesbeing, drawn by Ron Smith in another image that has stuck with me through the years. Reading the episode now, it’s got the dark comedic edge that one expects from quality Judge Dredd, but at the time I couldn’t really follow the subtelties of the story and just thought Rinus was terrifying.
The other stories are The Mind of Wolfie Smith, The V.C.s and Robo Hunter, and curiously I have no memory of reading these three at the time. Just four weeks after this issue came the stupendous, synapse-snapping, new look Prog 178, which introduced to me new thrills Strontium Dog, Nemesis the Warlock, Meltdown Man, The Mean Arena and Dash Decent – for me, stone-cold classics all and the stories that I remember best and most fondly from the 2000AD of my childhood. Together, they comprise a visual soundtrack of ultimate, unquestionable cool.