Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Happy Birthday, 2000AD!

This month, Britain's beloved SF weekly anthology celebrated its thirty-fifth anniversary, the last, defiant survivor of a market that doesn't even exist any more. I've already sung the praises of the Galaxy's Greatest Comic as part of Down The Tubes' extensive tribute to the title, but I wanted to say a little more on the subject…

It's impossible to overstate the importance of 2000AD in the history of the comics industry, and its place in the hearts of its fans. 

Prog 104: Thrill Power Encapsulated!
I'm a letterer because of 2000AD. Back when I got my first regular issue (Prog 104, fact fans) despite the phenomenal ink stylings of Carlos Ezquerra, the vibrant, dynamic cartooning of Ian Gibson, I was immediately drawn to the clean lines and heavy blacks of Dave Gibbons' rendition of Dan Dare. My Dad had grown up with Eagle and so I was pre-emptively disposed to like the character, I suppose…

Collector Ceri Levy owns this page, the splash page from that very issue. But click the image to enlarge, and take a look at the credits… Dave did his own lettering and got his name on the credits twice! To my ten-year-old brain, this was literally the coolest thing ever. From that moment on, I was unable to read a strip without noticing the lettering, without wondering how this effect or that technique was achieved, without mentally assessing which letterers' work I liked, which I didn't, and trying to work out why.

Of course, as artist, Dave had the advantage of being able to work his sound effect work into the art. In US comics, lettering was done by hand onto the pencils, so the inker was able to work around the SFX and integrate them into the art, but 2000AD letterers got finished, inked art (one artist usually produced the complete B&W page) and physically stuck lettering onto the art board, which made SFX work slightly more problematic.

Whenever I approach my sound effect work, I have Dave's lettering in mind, and the exemplary sound effect work of Alan Davis and Arthur Ranson.
Killraven: Art by Alan Davis
Button Man: Art by Arthur Ranson
Doctor Who: Art by Dave Gibbons
I'd also draw your attention to the clean, careful penmanship of letterer Steve Potter on the Button Man page above. Whilst the late Tom Frame is quite rightly acclaimed as the heavyweight of British hand lettering, Steve's contribution sometimes gets overlooked…
Nemesis The Warlock:
Art by Kevin O'Neill
Sadly, I don't have the issues to hand, and can't find a scan online of some of Steve's more inventive lettering work on Nemesis -- for the giant, intelligent spiders in Book II, for example, their dialogue balloons are anchored to the edges of the panels by streamers of webbing!

The simple fact that hand-lettering was so time-consuming meant that 2000AD maintained a large roster of letterers, all with instantly recognisable styles: Jack Potter (any relation to Steve? I have no idea!), Pete Knight, Bill Nuthall, John Aldrich, Tony Jacob… later joined by Rich Starkings, Annie Parkhouse, Ellie De Ville, the latter two have taken 2000AD through into the era of digital lettering and have been joined by the admirable talent of Simon Bowland.

So… 2000AD letterers all, I salute you. And a special word of thanks to the Godfather of 2000AD himself, Mr Pat Mills, whose decision at the title's creation to eschew the standard letterpress machine lettering of the time in favour of hand lettering throughout went so very far in ensuring that the comic felt like nothing else on the stands at the time.

I could go on … and probably will, but that will have to be a post for another time.

No comments:

Post a Comment