Next month sees the release of The Mighty One from Rebellion, the story of editor Steve MacManus’ time as editor of 2000AD – and we’re really looking forward to reading it here at downthetubes and delighted he’s had time to write a short item on his memories of dealing with unsolicited pitches for our site.
In 1973, a 20-year-old Steve MacManus joined Fleetway Publications as a sub-editor on one of the UK’s top adventure titles, Valiant. Within six years, he would rise to become editor of the company’s most celebrated weekly, 2000AD, shepherding it through its ‘Golden Age’ as he commissioned hit series such as “The Ballad of Halo Jones”, “Sláine”, “Bad Company”, “Rogue Trooper”, “Nemesis the Warlock” and more. For many he remains the definitive editor of the multi-award-winning SF anthology.
In his warm and witty memoir The Mighty One, Steve lifts the lid on the fiercely creative environment that was British comics in the 1970s and ‘80s and reveals how against all odds 2000AD became a global phenomenon.
Especially for downthetubes, he’s written this item on what could often be the bane of many a comic editor’s day – dealing with the unsolicited submissions… which came int0 2000AD in their hundreds.
If you ever wondered what happened to yours – the truth is now revealed…
A 21st Century Apology
They came out of nowhere and their arrival was a complete surprise, much like waking up to learn that a passing flotilla of alien spacecraft has extracted all the hydrogen from the Earth’s oceans. I’m talking about unsolicited submissions, those hopeful, mailed samples from readers keen to write or draw for 2000AD.
My career in comics began as a sub-editor on Valiant in 1973. One of my jobs was to open the morning post which was always huge; everybody wanted to win the £1 postal order prize offered for each entry published on the letters page. I found the same enthusiasm to win a prize applied when I transferred to Battle Picture Weekly (here, the writer of the star letter won a Polaroid camera). This learning proved equally true of the postbag for Action when it was launched. But never, ever did any letter or postal packet contain an unsolicited script intended for publication or art samples from an artist in search of work. However much they clearly wanted to win a prize, it seemed no one wanted be a comics creator. Perhaps they assumed all the content was created in the publisher’s office, by dedicated, full-time staff.
So the big question is, ‘why?’ Why was 2000AD different from the titles that went before it? I’m guessing creator credits helped personalize the experience of appreciating a story and its artwork, leading to the sudden thought: “I could do that!” I’m guessing 2000AD attracted the British fan audience brought up on American comics. These enthusiasts would have been well aware of the process by which the content was commissioned from freelancers and they piled in with submissions of their own, sent from Bognor to the Orkney Isles and beyond. Above all, I think that the sheer creative energy and passion of 2000 AD’s arrival inspired a generation of would be writers and artists.
Either way, what began as a trickle of unsolicited submissions soon became a flood. You could spot them straight away: they were all addressed to “The Editor”, not that silly Mr. Tharg. Usually, the stories were attempts at a Future Shock. There was less artwork, mainly because photocopiers were expensive and not every youthful illustrator wanted to commit his originals to the care of the post office.
Either way I found myself putting the entries into a pile with the firm intention of perusing them just as soon as I had time. The problem was, time passed and fairly soon the pile grew to resemble the leaning tower of Pisa, threatening to topple over and bury me under a pile of raucous sound effects and ropey dialogue. I began to feel ashamed and one evening, when my colleagues had gone home, I demolished the Leaning Tower of Pisa, cramming its pages into a large bin bag, which I then hid under my desk. To be fair, I did spend a couple of hours once going through some of the submissions, and what I found was that they were more or less at the same creative level: promising, but not publishable. What these hopefuls needed was personal coaching, but this I was unable to supply and there certainly weren’t any courses in comics writing or drawing at the time.
After a while, the submissions began to dry up, presumably because having had no reply to previous submissions the sender had given up in despair. Some persevered though and they were rewarded when Alan Grant joined 2000AD in 1979. Alan kindly agreed to take over the task of going though unsolicited submissions and his diligence was quickly rewarded when he opened a script submission from a Mr Moore in Wolverhampton. By return of post, Mr. Moore received a two-page letter of encouragement and practical scripting advice from Alan and the rest is comics’ history.
Judging whether an artist’s work had promise was a lot easier than deciding whether a writer would flourish, but it still took time, with practical advice being the primary method of feedback. Fortunately, Robin Smith, newly-installed as art editor, was keen to share his knowledge of how to draw comics, knowledge enhanced by long talks in the pub with Messrs Bolland, Gibbons, O’Neil and McMahon concerning how they approached the process, what implements they used and what board they chose to draw on. As such, it was with great relief that all future art submissions were passed to Robin as soon as the post arrived. From there he began the laborious but rewarding task of coaching the more promising aspirants and among those to flourish under his tutorship were Alan Davis and Cliff Robinson.
So, if you were one of the many hopefuls who sent in a proposal for a Future Shock to 2000AD in the last century and are still waiting for a reply, I do apologise.
For what it’s worth, my memoir was also a leap of faith, with no commission behind it. As such, to all intents and purposes, it began life as an unsolicited submission and it is only thanks to Ben Smith and Matt Smith at Rebellion that it has been published. Thanks, guys!
• The Mighty One: My Life Inside The Nerve Centre is published by Rebellion on 8th September 12016 (299 pages. £9.99). Pre-order direct from the publisher at 2000ADonline.com, from Amazon or your local comic shop
• The Complete DR & Quinch is still available from all good bookshops, comic shops and online stores, including Amazon
More About Steve MacManus
Perhaps best known for his editorship of 2000AD, Steve MacManus joined IPC in 1973 as a sub-editor on the boys’ weekly comic Valiant, until 1975 when he moved to Battle Picture Weekly under editor David Hunt. While working on Battle he also freelanced on Action, appearing as the title’s mascot “Action Man”, who performed and wrote up stunts and activities such as exploring London’s sewers or flying a hot air balloon, as well as writing “The Running Man”, “Sport’s Not For Losers”, and episodes of “Dredger”.
He moved to Starlord in 1978, working as a sub under Kelvin Gosnell, following him over to 2000AD and writing scripts for “M.A.C.H. 1”, “M.A.C.H. Zero”, as well as contributing episodes of “The V.C.s”. He also wrote “The Lawless Touch” for Tornado.
In 1978 he was promoted to editor of 2000AD, a position he held until 1987, a period widely regarded as the title’s “golden age”, during which John Wagner, Alan Grant, Pat Mills and Alan Moore produced some of their best work, and new talents like Peter Milligan and Grant Morrison joined the line-up. MacManus had a hand in the creation of one of the comic’s most enduring characters, “Rogue Trooper”, alongside writer Gerry Finley-Day and artist Dave Gibbons, and he co-wrote the character with Simon Geller in 1986.
He became Managing Editor of the 2000AD Group in 1987, a period that saw the launch of Crisis, which he edited for 50 issues, which introduced Garth Ennis, John Smith, Sean Phillips and Duncan Fegredo, among others.
In the early 1990s he edited the first twelve issues of the Judge Dredd Megazine, and co-edited the Batman/Judge Dredd crossover Judgement on Gotham with DC Comics’ Denny O’Neil. Other titles he oversaw in the 2000AD Group included Revolver and Dice Man.
In 1995 he became Managing Editor of the Pre-School Group of Fleetway’s new owners Egmont, editing Sonic the Comic and overseeing titles such as TOXIC and Ben 10, but returned to 2000AD in 1997 to write their 3000AD twentieth anniversary special with David Bishop.
After Egmont sold 2000AD to Rebellion Developments in 2000, MacManus moved out of comics and into Egmont’s magazine editorial., stepping down in 2011.
• Follow Steve MacManus on Twitter @mac_1
• Respect Due: Former 2000AD editor Steve MacManus – by David Bishop