2016 wasn't all bad; it saw the 2000th issue of top British comic magazine 2000 AD hit comic shop shelves, featuring artwork by some of its greatest ever contributors – Mick McMahon, Kevin O'Neill, Dave Gibbons, Carlos Ezquerra and many more, as well as three alternate covers.
Tharg – the mag's alien editor – features on the cover by Cliff Robinson, and Glenn Fabry has drawn an astounding wraparound illustration taking in all the major 2000 AD characters. Chris Burnham has drawn an iconic image of Judge Dredd for the third cover.
It's a brilliant reversal having American artist Chris draw a cover. Founded in 1977 with a sci-fi remit, 2000 AD has developed many young British artists who have later been headhunted by US publishers. "The Burnhams left England almost 400 years ago," laughs Chris. "Returning in the pages of the galaxy's greatest comic is an absolute dream come true!"
Chris's image of 2000 AD mainstay Judge Dredd is in homage to Mick McMahon's cover for Prog 168, published way back in 1980, when the comic cost just 12p. "Mick's exaggerated style gives him all sorts of anatomical leeway – if you look at his original cover, Dredd's hips are like four feet wide and his proportions are downright skeletal, but the impact is just fantastic," says Chris.
Dave Gibbons, who rocketed to worldwide glory with Watchmen, was part of the team that created the first edition of 2000 AD. He's returned for Prog 2000 with a page featuring Tharg surrounded by some of the title's Future War characters – Rogue Trooper, The VCs, Fiends of the Eastern Front and Bad Company.
For Dave, one of 2000 AD's key strengths has been the team spirit it's maintained across generations of comic artists. "With 2000 AD there was a real kind of clubhouse feel," he says. "We were friends with other people who worked on the comics, and I think nowadays the communication between comic artists is so great that you feel you're part of a movement rather than just an individual."
Originally influenced by American comics, 2000 AD shook up the British newsstand when it was launched. It pushed the boundaries with its wild sci-fi stories and a sense of humour that's been likened to Monty Python and The Young Ones. Each week it still contains five or six stories, continuing the tales of characters like Judge Dredd and Sláine, but including one-off Future Shock stories for added spice.
Though he drew the original Rogue Trooper character, Dave's favourite 2000 AD work is a one-off story he did with Alan Moore before their Watchmen days. "It was called Chronocops, and was a time travel cops story. That remains one of my favourites and, out of all the stuff that I did for 2000 AD, that's actually the only one I still have the original artwork for – that's how much I enjoyed and prized it."
Future Shock pages give new artists a crack at working on 2000 AD. For Prog 2000, Rufus Dayglo is drawing a new story called Counterfeit Girl, written by Peter Milligan, but his earliest contribution to 2000 AD was a Future Shock. "These short, one-off stories are quite challenging," Rufus says. "You have to tell a whole story in five or six pages. It's a test for both writer and artist, and a great tool to learn the craft of storytelling. Mine was about a knight who meets his older self as both a warning and a prophecy."
With science fiction its main focus, 2000 AD artists have imagined some extreme versions of the future and just run with it. Characters and storylines go off in crazy directions, and the unpredictability is part of the fun. Writers and artists have enjoyed plenty of freedom on 2000 AD. As a result, satire, social commentary and bizarre humour have flowed through its storylines.
Yet as zany – and violent – as some of it has been, it's maintained a certain bedrock style. Richard Elson has worked for 2000 AD since the late '80s and in Prog 2000 he's drawing a Rogue Trooper story written by Gordon Rennie. With it, he's aiming to evoke the early Rogue Trooper and give it a classic 2000 AD feel that dates back to the late 1970s and early '80s.
"Kevin O'Neill, Mick McMahon, Carlos Ezquerra – they're really great comic artists, and there's a certain sort of quirkiness, oddness, non-mainstream look to their art," says Richard. "You've got to take your hat off to these guys because even your best artists today – Henry Flint and guys like that – are still looking back to their work. There's such a weight of great art at the beginning, the first decade or so of the title, that anybody who works on it is always going to look back to that era."
As its title suggests, the original launch team didn't think 2000 AD would last until the year 2000, let alone reach its 2,000th issue. The comic-reading audience has shrunk, but 2000 AD has maintained a loyal readership and as that readership has matured, so has the title and its stories. The continued influx of new writers and artists points to a bright future.
"2000 AD is a national treasure," says Dave Gibbons. "It encapsulates a certain strand of what it means to be British that I think is worthy of being preserved, if not by the nation then certainly for the nation."