Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!: 2000AD & Judge Dredd: The Secret History by Pat Mills (book review).

‘Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!’ was the catchphrase of the villain Torquemada in ‘Nemesis The Warlock’, a Pat Mills series and is also the title for this history of the creation of ‘2000AD’, a British comic of some renown. Mills admits from the start that this is his truth, a popular conception today and that other recollections and opinions may differ, which is fair enough. Even if you haven’t seen him interviewed in person, it’s clear from the book that he’s a bombastic and forceful personality, not shy of airing his views in fiction or memoir.

For example, some unwary minion at Titan Books referred to him as the co-creator of ‘2000AD’ and Mills chased them up. As it happens, Titan founder Nick Landau started out working on the comic. Mills demanded to know the identity of the other co-creator and insisted that he created ‘2000AD’ and no one else. On the evidence, this seems true because IPC executive John Sanders, who also has a book out, had to pay Mills £250 a week in 1976 to get him back on board when he quit as the comic was being developed. That was twice what Sanders himself earned. I started work in 1977 as an office junior and made £18 a week. A pint of beer was 25p back then, so £250 a week was a considerable sum and hard-nosed publishers would not have paid it if they didn’t need him.

What does created mean, though? Mills would admit that he didn’t write every individual strip, but he emphasises development. Before the first script and first art pages, a character has to be devised and his background world thought out in some detail, especially for a Science Fiction concept. One of Mills’ main complaints here – and there are many! – is that publishers don’t pay writers for time spent on development. So Mills was the principal writer on many of the scripts but worked with both writers and artists in giving them a good foundation so that the characters might last a while. In some cases, notably Judge Dredd, it worked.

2000AD’ was the third attempt by a new generation of comic writers to break away from the traditional British mould of staid characters and dull plots and do something that would appeal to teenagers. ‘Battle’ and ‘Action’ were the first comics to try a bit of subversion and violence. ‘Battle’ kept going for a while but ‘Action’ was cancelled after some controversy in the media, ripped up live on the BBC by Frank Bough! Then Mills realised that you might be able to get away with more violence and subversion, even satire, in a Science Fiction comic because Science Fiction isn’t so real. The new kids were fond of the excellent old stuff, like Dan Dare, but he wanted to do something relevant that wouldn’t fit in the 1950s ‘Eagle’ comic. British comics at the time were dominated by IPC/Fleetway in London and DC Thomson in Dundee, big companies with a conservative point of view. IPC management didn’t care about the comics at all as their primary income source was women’s magazines.

Comics were deemed to be in decline, killed off by television and the man in charge, John Sanders, had a policy of ‘hatch, match and dispatch’. Launch a new title with a tacky plastic free gift because kids will buy something new. When sales inevitably start to flag, merge it with another title and ultimately close it down. Meanwhile, launch another new comic. It was a policy of managed decline, as some old civil servants once told Maggie Thatcher when she wanted to make Britain great again. Mills was the Maggie Thatcher of the comicsworld! I’m sure he’d love the comparison.

While in charge of ‘2000AD’, Mills sought reader feedback to find out which strips were working. He distinguishes between readers and fans. Readers are the majority and fans are a noisy minority. He thinks too many editors listen to the fans’ tastes and sometimes lose the readers in doing so. I think he’s right. As he mentions, the ‘Doctor Who’ television series has this problem, too. In mainstream media, you want to keep the general reader. A publication is not economically viable if only bought by hardcore fans.

Writer and artist credit boxes were introduced by artist Kevin O’Neill who snuck them in without consulting anyone. Management were opposed to giving creator credits on the sound principle that once the names were out there, other companies would try to poach your best talent. Perhaps they were right. One of ‘2000AD’s main problems is that British talent is lured away by the siren call of American comics, Marvel and DC. Mills was not so tempted because he is an anti-establishment rebel and dislikes super-heroes who fight for the status quo. He’s very forceful on this point. Most young men give up their rebellious attitudes as years go by and settle for the way things are in the world or realise that if you get rid of ‘The Establishment’, you simply replace it with a different one that might be worse. Mills has not yet done this, perhaps to his credit.

I enjoyed the book, which is written in a pleasant, conversational style. The first half focuses on the creation of ‘2000AD’ and has lots of behind-the-scenes information. I was glad to learn about Doug Church, art director on the first six issues, who laid out most of the stories to give the artists a design lesson. ‘He was my Obi-Wan Kenobi’, says Mills. The second half of the book is about the comic’s chequered history with a kind of happy ending when Rebellion publishing took it over. Mills has some complaints about Rebellion which may be why this book is self-published and not put out by them. There’s also plenty about how a creator’s lot is not a happy one because the publishers keep too much of the loot. He knows the industry well and makes some good points, but the book’s tail end is more griping than gripping.

Even so, an entertaining and informative read overall and perhaps essential for anyone interested in the history of the Galaxy’s greatest comic. It’s reasonably priced, too. If you need balance, other books on the subject are available and I’ll be reading them soon.

Eamonn Murphy

April 2021

(pub: Millsverse Books, 2017. 266 page 5767kB ebook. ASIN: B072JYY2NF)

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Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy reviews books for sfcrowsnest and writes short stories now and then. Website:

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