TITAN BOOKS began publishing five years ago with an album of Judge Dredd stories. Everybody told Nick Landau, Titan’s Managing Director, it would never work — but that first book sold out within two months. And Titan’s on its twentieth Judge Dredd compilation now.
Soon Titan was compiling other 2000AD strips into albums so readers could get whole stories in one piece. These collections sell throughout Britain and America, and they’re just as well known as the 2000AD comic itself.
Titan has expanded into buying and publishing American graphic novels and packaging the more adult-oriented American comics, very new to the British public. The first of these was Batman; The Dark Knight Returns by Alan Moore; after its release in December this grim tale spent two months in the Sunday Times Best Seller List. Next came Swamp Thing, again by Alan Moore, and Book Two in this series has already sold out.
‘So we discovered that there is a very different market for comics in Britain and indeed the States,’ says Managing Director Landau. ‘Penguin is also beginning to realise this new market for comics; it’s just released Maus by Art Spiegelman, which is the story of the Holocaust in a graphic-novel format. These graphic novels are selling into mainstream bookshops, to people who wouldn’t normally walk into a speciality comic shop and pick up a copy of, say, 2000AD. The fact that it has a spine and can be shelved makes it accessible to people who would turn up their nose at a pulp comic’.
He continues: ‘You’re able, with a Titan book, to go and buy something that you’ll feel quite proud to have sitting on your living-room table.
‘What we’re going to do is select the cream of English-language comics and also European comics and package them into a trade-size (large) paperback book format and market them into the mainstream bookshops like WH Smith, Foyles and even Harrods and make these comics accessible to a readership that’s discovering these new comics for the first time.
‘We’re also producing a range of material that’s not just the traditional sci-fi and superhero character, a lot of the books we’re producing are a lot more sophisticated than that; for example, Love And Rackets, Heartbreak Soup and Swamp Thing. We’re educating people in terms of what the comics medium has to offer in the same way as the film medium offers a range of material. Sci-fi and superhero comics are the tip of the iceberg.
‘In our English-speaking culture, comics have been relegated to the children’s market, mostly because of Superman, as comics have always meant superheroes. Outside our culture, in Japan for instance, comics, in book form, represent 25% of all publishing — their comics are the size of telephone directories, and published every week.
‘Mainstream publishers like Penguin and Warner Books are beginning to commission writers and artists to do sophisticated stories to sell on the mass market. So we’re seeing a renaissance of a new medium in the English-speaking world, of which Titan is at the forefront in Britain.’
CULT COMIC 2000AD has been going zarjazzy for over 500 weeks, building a devoted following and its own futuristic language (‘zarjaz’ means something like ‘great, fantastic’) despite changes in content and style.
In the two years after its March 1977 foundation, 2000AD merged with several other comics which were having financial difficulties. These mergers built up 2000AD’s own readership and reinforced its editorial backbone as the better artists, writers and strips were kept on — and many like scriptwriter Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons have gone on to greater things.
Many of 2000AD’s characters have become legends — particularly Judge Dredd, who’s appeared in 2000AD almost every week since it started.
His haunt is Mega City One, an enormous metropolis which covers most of northeast America (New York, Chicago etc). This city was built just after the Third World War to protect the northeastern population from the arid RadLands which surround the city and the evils they contain.
The Judges are a kind of Mega police force: it’s their job to keep the peace and uphold the City s Law — with iron fists! There are different kinds of Judges to deal with all the different crimes that have evolved in the overcrowded high-tech conurbation.
It’s Judge Anderson featured in the CRASH pull-out, but Judge Dredd is the most renowned of these lawmen of the future — and the star of Piranha’s licence.
Back in the real-life megacity, the most recent change at 2000AD was a change of ownership: in July the publishing giant IPC’s Youth Group, which produced 2000AD, was bought out by BMPC, Robert Maxwell’s magazine group.
Maxwell also owns the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror, Mirrorsoft and CRASH’s printers! BMPC renamed the IPC Youth Group Fleetway Publications — ironic, because IPC had taken over Fleetway in the Sixties. Zarjaz or what?
THE STRANGE WORLD of 2000AD’s Judges is difficult enough to put on the Spectrum screen as it is — and Piranha sent the task to Hungary, where the comic’s hardly heard of!
Still, the Budapest-based programming team Hobbyte soon got into the shoot-’em-up mayhem. Says Creative Manager Tamas Revbiro: ‘It’s very near to the kind of science fiction very popular in Hungary. It’s a crooked kind of science fiction with lots of violence and bloodshed, and the technological gadgets are already well-known through other authors, so it’s not totally new.’
There’s been a comics boom in Hungary in the last 18 months, though mostly of film tie-ins and Disney characters — ‘they have no cultural value whatever so they were not supported by the government, but they make profit’.
The quite different 2000AD comics went down well with Hobbyte’s ten programmers, who are preparing Judge Death for Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad. (Their previous credits include Ocean’s 1984 Chinese Juggler and Mirrorsoft’s Issue 26 Smash Spitfire 40, and they’ve often worked with the London-based software developers Andromeda.)
‘First the programmers and then the graphics artist read them over and over and learned them by heart,’ recalls Revbiro.
Meanwhile, back in the piranha tank, programmer Mike Lewis is working on the game of 2000AD heroine Halo Jones — based on Titan Books’s first anthology, The Ballad Of Halo Jones. It’ll be out around Easter.
‘The basic idea is that Halo Jones goes shopping,’ says Lewis. ‘The idea is getting to the shopping mall and back again.’
Graphics for the planned five levels and 512 screens are by Carl Cropley, who worked with Lewis on Melbourne House’s adventure The Mystery Of Arkham Manor (Issue 43) — but the star feature is the randomisation of Halo Jones’s tunnel world. Different tunnels are blocked each time you play so, says Smith, ‘you’ll have to map the thing but no two games will bethe same’.
Piranha’s also considering a game of 2000AD’s strip Ace Trucking Co.