A short interview with John Wagner

I am lucky enough to live north of the border and so a trip to the Moniaive Comics Festival in early September 2002 wasn't the "Helltrek" that it would be for most other 2000AD readers.

Having attended last year's event, I was aware that this is a small, intimate gig; you can often find yourself alone in a room with a comics creator whose work you have admired for over 25 years. So with this in mind, and despite never having interviewed anybody else in my life, I contacted the festival organisers and asked if they would allow me to conduct some mini-interviews.

Armed with my trusty Dictaphone and a few questions provided by the 2000AD message boarders, I managed to corner John Wagner. I apologised in advance for any interviewing faux pas I would make. John was enthusiastic, good humoured and forgiving of my technique and "Oh my God, I'm interviewing John Wagner" demeanour.

Mr. Tips: I was pleasantly surprised to learn that you had written "Darkie's Mob" for Battle Picture Weekly many years back. What was the very first thing you had published?

John Wagner: Well, it wasn't my first freelance job but it was the first thing I did after I left VALIANT (I was the editor of Valiant). I quit that and Darkie was my first commission after that and I had to make sure it was good. But I'd had this idea brewing in my head for a while and it turned out very well.

What are you working on at the moment?

Mainly Dredd. I'm also doing with Alan Grant and Cam Kennedy a story for video animation which I can't talk about. There's a few other things in the pipeline but mainly Dredd and Strontium Dog. Actually, I've just started on a new Strontium Dog adventure - should be a good one. It's a totally different thing to "Roadhouse".

What would you say were the biggest thing you have learnt between writing "Darkie's Mob" and your current projects?

MAKE SURE YOU GET PAID ON TIME! Oh, I don't know to be honest. It's a continual learning process, writing. The thing about it is, you keep forgetting the lessons. Every time I write a story, I relearn the basic lessons. It's weird, I start out on a story and I get caught up for a couple of days. And then I think "Oh, yeah! Think of a villain". All the lessons that you learn, it's so easy to let them drift out of your mind.

What story are you most proud of?

(Grins and taps finger on a copy of "The Bogie Man" that he is signing). I don't know if it's the best thing I've written because it's not all mine, it's me and Alan (Grant) but because it's close to home, to actually do something about Scotland that is the great thing about "The Bogie Man". But I'm proud of a lot of things; Strontium Dog and Judge Dredd and Robohunter. And "History of Violence", which has just been sold to New Line Cinema, was a book that I really enjoyed doing and I'm pleased with that. And "Button Man". Quite a lot of things.

Dredd often addresses issues from current affairs. Is this a good way of avoiding inspirational burnout?

Well, I think that Dredd is very much a reflection of what's going on today. It is a satire and a social commentary so there must be a relation to what's happening today. A lot of the things that you think "Well, that's the future!" but we got the ideas from Pinochet's regime or Police states that exist or idiocies of government. Things that happen today are central to a Dredd story because Dredd in a future that you can't relate to is not worth reading. It has to have some basis in your life; you have to have some way of identifying with the story.

Is there anything that you'd love to write but won't? (and why)

No. I can't think of anything like that.

Dredd has a dry wit (even if he doesn't know it). Is that your own sense of humour coming through?

I think it is. My children will tell you that there's a hell of a lot of me in Dredd. "Do this! Do that! Don't give me any of your crap!". Yes, I think there's a lot of my personality in Dredd though I'm MUCH nicer.

Are you a regular reader of other comics?

No. I use to be an avid reader of other comics before I started working in them. Since then I've found it harder to read comics, partly because I don't want to be accused of plagiarising another writer's work. So I tend to avoid reading what another writer has written. I suppose that I stopped reading comics in the early days of 2000AD; around Prog. 100. Maybe I should read more. But a story is a story.

Regardless of the media you do it in?

There a different techniques you have to use but the basic rules apply whatever you are doing, television, computer game, movie.

Last time they made a Judge Dredd movie, they didn't get in touch with you until it was too late, I guess.

That's the way I see it. But they wouldn't have listened to me even if they had.

Lastly, who's going to hang up his boots first; Wagner or Judge Dredd?


Thank you for your time.

Thanks also to Sue Grant for allowing the interviews to take place and to Wake for publishing it on the website.

Coming Soon: Alan Grant gives some tantalising details of his latest television project and Cam Kennedy explains why he kept all of his best Star Wars designs secret from George Lucas.