As one of the early editors of British weekly, 2000AD, Steve MacManus oversaw what was, arguably, the most creative era in the history of The Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. Now he’s back with a new anthology comics project, Blazer!, and Peter Duncan caught up with the editor turned recent novelist to find out more about it before its imminent crowdfunding launch…
From 1979 to 1986, Steve MacManus was responsible for corralling the raw new talent that was emerging at the time, along with the forces of nature that were Pat Mills and John Wagner, to create the strips that secured 2000AD’s unique place among British comics – and set the pattern that leaves it as the last man standing of British weekly adventure comics.
As editor and writer, he contributed to the creation of many of the characters and stories that built the reputation that the comic survives on to this day.
His book, The Mighty One: My Life Inside the Nerve Centre published in 2016, a hugely readable and entertaining memoir, told the story of his career and of the corporate politics and personalities that shaped a major part of the British comics industry. Many readers, however, felt that there were stories still to be told, things that Steve, a likeable and generous gentleman, may not have wanted to say too directly.
So it was that readers of his 2019 novel, The Sheerglam Conspiracy, searched for some deeper truths. The novel focuses on a bitter circulation war between “Goodenough Publications” and “Tartan Editions,” thinly disguised versions of the two main publishers of comics in the 1970s and 80s.
Much of the book deals with the creation of Blazer!, a new comic being developed for launch in 1974, by “Goodenough Publications”.
“Having introduced the notion of a new comic, I felt it my duty to the reader to describe what strips would be in this fictitious title, supposedly being readied for launch in the spring of 1974,” Steve explains, but then his editorial urges took over. “Before I knew it, I found myself scripting the first episodes of each strip…”
For many, myself included, the scripts were a highlight of the book. Clever and funny parodies of the type of strips that we remembered from the comics of the period, it seemed inevitable that someone would come with the idea of using them, somewhere.
“Some months after publication I received a phone call from Ben Cullis of The77 Publications,” Steve continues. “I learned that The77 was to be a picture strip publication inspired by the comics of the 1970s, much like your Belfast-based fanzine, Sector 13, which focuses on the world of Judge Dredd.
“I was delighted by Ben’s proposal that the Blazer! scripts be drawn and lettered for monthly publication in The77.”
Two strips, “The Tinkling Triangles” and “The Collector,” appeared in the first two issues of The77 with excellent art by New Zealand artist. Brendan Wright and industry titan Charlie Gillespie. But, while they looked good and read well, much of the impact of their deliberate parody was lost. Without the context of the novel, the stories seemed slightly out of place to many readers who may have looked forward to second episodes that would never appear.
In response, Ben Cullis, editor of The77, came up with a new proposal, one that would make full use of Steve’s comedic invention.
“Ben suggested the remaining strips be published in a title of their own, naturally called Blazer!,” Steve reveals. “All I had to do was gasp, ‘Yes, Please, Sir!’, and Ben set to work pairing artists with the scripts.
“At some point, he asked me to devise a new strip to fill the pagination he was working to. This led to me asking Peter Western, [the son of the late Mike Western, who was a major contributor to many a Fleetway title for decades] if he would like to collaborate with me on ‘Domenica’s Ring’, which was an absolute privilege for me when he readily agreed.”
Written by Steve MacManus, one of the most important figures in 1970s and 80s comics, Blazer! will be essential reading for fans of British comics of the time and will form the perfect companion to Steve’s novel, The SheerGlam Conspiracy and its upcoming sequel, The SheerGlam Succession, which reveals exactly why Blazer! has disappeared from memory.
The first issue of Blazer!, the great lost title from the golden age of British adventure comics will be published early in 2021. A Kickstarter, funding the project, is due to be launched on 21st January.
Apart from “Domenica’s Ring”, the line-up of strips, taken straight from The Sheerglam Conspiracy, is “Derringer & So’n“, drawn by Colin Maxwell (“Think Magnum, set in the 1970s,” Steve teases); “The Boot Room Boy“, drawn by Fillippo Roncone (“The obligatory soccer strip”); a World War Two-set strip, “Godwin’s Law“, drawn by Dan Cornwell; and “Sheriffs of Nottingham” drawn by Andrew Richmond. “Imagine Rod Steiger from in The Heat of the Night bringing justice to the streets of Nottingham, says Steve of this strip.
“Andrew also designed the features and cover design,” he adds, also revealing Blazer! will include a three-picture newspaper style strip featuring the characters Herb and Spaceman, drawn by Ian Baker.
Steve also tells us that the two strips that ran in The77 will not feature in Blazer! Issue One, although a mono version of “The Tinkling Triangles” will feature in the digital download – so you may just want to order back issues of that title for completeness sake if you don’t have them already.
While Blazer! will, inevitably, appeal to readers of both The Sheerglam Conspiracy and The77, how would Steve pitch the project to those perhaps not in on the joke but know of his 2000AD and other British comics connections?
“I would pitch Blazer! to comic fans as being typical of the anthology comics published in Britain during the late 1970s,” he says. “It differs in one respect in that the person welcoming the readers is female sub-editor Dom Tom.”
The very existence of Blazer! is, of course, predicated on the success of the impending Kickstarter.
“If funded, then there will certainly be the launch issue, but beyond that, the title’s future lies with The77 Publications,” Steve acknowledges.
At present, he’s loathe to say just what will happen to the project beyond the “launch issue”, although he does offer a few hints.
“Obviously it won’t be a weekly!” he laughs. “But I would love it if, like The77, it became a place for new talent to hone their skills.
“Whatever the outcome, the fans’ enthusiasm for self-published comics demonstrates an enduring passion for the picture strip tradition.”
One evening, whilst attending the 2019 Singapore Comic Con, a member of The77 publishing team got lost on the way back to her hotel. Feeling a little worse for wear, she strayed into the Singapore docks area, where she passed the night inside what appeared to be a disused warehouse. Waking the next day, in the chilly interior, she found she had covered herself in what she took to be discarded newspapers. As her eyes became accustomed to the morning light, she realised her bedding was in fact copies of a British comic.
On further inspection, the warehouse proved to be packed with shrink-wrapped bundles of the title, each one in pristine condition. It was only then that the amazing truth slowly began to dawn on the hung-over fan. She had stumbled upon the Holy Grail of the British comics collecting community, namely the first issue of Blazer!, whose 90,000 copy print run had inexplicably vanished shortly after being loaded into a distributor’s lorry some forty-five years earlier…
• Steve’s account of his days with IPC, The Mighty One, along with his novel, The SheerGlam Conspiracy are available from Amazon. He occasionally has signed copies available directly from him, he can be contacted through Facebook for details. His memoir, Elmswood, an account of his time at an experimental English boarding school in the 1960s, treads different ground – but is nonetheless fascinating.
• The story behind the mysterious disappearance of Blazer!’s first issue will be revealed in The SheerGlam Succession, the second volume in Steve MacManus’ intended SheerGlam trilogy