My alternative education through 2000AD

Under the radar, quietly reading in the corner, the kids of 1980s Britain were absorbing a different message from the ones we got from our educators and the media. While politicians ranted and many people looked back to a bygone age of triumph, we were clutching tales of science-fiction adventure that seemed harmless to disinterested adult eyes.

2000ad 173

The 1970s and 1980s were the golden age of 2000AD, Britain’s sci-fi comic. Then, as now, it came out weekly. Printed on shabby paper and sold for small change, it didn’t look at all like the sort of thing that would have an effect on anyone, but for me, it was another sort of education entirely.

2000AD featured four or five continuing stories every week, in black and white with one colour spread. Judge Dredd, the 21st century’s fascistic lawman was almost always on the centre pages. Rather than being an out-and-out attack on police states, Judge Dredd was a sly criticism of Thatcher’s Britain. One example is the high school class who have lessons in Unemployment (2000AD Prog 206, Script: John Wagner, Art: Ron Smith):

Chopper at school

“We’re talking about unemployment here – your future!” (Click to enlarge all scans.)

In fact, Judge Dredd himself was not amiss in sticking up for the innocent, as in this epic moment from the Cursed Earth saga (Script: Pat Mills, Art: Brian Bolland):

When someone calls on the law for help

Silly? In the eyes of many adults, for sure. Powerful? It hardly needs spelling out who is calling on the law for help in our world today.

Prejudice was also a common theme, especially in the adventures of Nemesis the Warlock. This was a nifty twist on the alien invasion storyline, where humans invade alien space and systematically exterminate all other species for being different. My favourite moment was when the Chief Bigot discovers that they have massacred so many aliens that they need to replace them with a new target to hate (2000AD Prog 482 Script: Pat Mills, Art: Bryan Talbot):

Chief bigot from Nemesis the Warlock

A bad day for freckled people everywhere (I’m one!).

Years before President Bush sr was ridiculing environmentalists for their desire to protect owls at the expense of jobs, 2000AD also had a green message about our abuse of animals and the environment. This might take place in the far future, such as when mutant bounty hunter Strontium Dog discovers an alien race that is factory farming human captives (from 2000AD Prog 428, script: Alan Grant Art: who else but Carlos Ezquerra?):

Strontium Dog Factory Farming

Foie gras, anyone?

Anne Frank’s father once said words to the effect that all children educate themselves. That’s true, but it also helps a lot to have a bit of subversive literature delivered once a week by our very parents.

For all that these comics were bizarre with their undead ghouls, psychotic cyborgs and dog-headed mutants, they were nowhere near as bizarre as some of the ideas and principles that were being drilled into my youthful head by the adults of the day. We were so lucky to have 2000AD – and that our elders often saw it as little more than garbage, leaving us alone to enjoy it in peace. And to slowly absorb its message.

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20 responses to “My alternative education through 2000AD

    • It’s very easy to lose a day lost in the world of 2000AD! I stopped reading when I went to the US in the late 1980s but I’m so pleased that it’s still going. I still have a box of my old progs in my office. They’re kind of ragged and yellow now, but I love them.

    • Yes, that accent’s wonderful, isn’t it? This was actually the first time I had heard the word ‘bigot’ so I learned something useful here.
      I also love the way they discuss having freckles removed from all the high-ranking members of society. Classic.

  1. Fantastic magazine and it says something that many the stories are being put together in graphic novel format. There is so much nostalgia in that cover with so many clever ideas, Alan Moore’s Future Shocks were a treat as well!

    • I love Alan Moore’s future shocks too – I would have mentioned him here too except that I think I have blogged a bit too much about his work already. It was the 30th anniversary of Watchmen this week, actually, so maybe I will be opening the Raw Shark files soon…

      • That would not go amiss, Stethinks. I have been thinking about your post all night, well when not working that is and so will be reblogging it shortly, as I like the cut of your post’s gib amongst other things.

  2. Reblogged this on Book to the Future and commented:
    In the formative years of my life I had no idea of the stealth education that this comic gave me but through Alistair’s words you can see how kids of yesteryear were being encouraged to think about big ideas so early on in their/our lives.

    • I’ve never really been a fan of graphic novels, possibly because my nephew seems to neglect the literature that is my preferred interest in favor almost totally of graphic novels. I do, however, like “Maus” in its various manifestations, and have read through the first one more than once. The others I’ve only leafed through, but am hoping to finish another day.

      • Graphic novels and comics are a bridge, especially if some of the more literary ones are introduced into your nephew’s reading…with Christmas around the corner and all.

        Berlin by Jason Lutes is good as well, although it isn’t complete yet but follows the lives of Berliners throughout the time of the Nazi rise to power.

  3. I loved the realism in what was stuff that hadn’t happened and might or might not because we weren’t in the future yet. On that level, as you elaborate so well, it wasn’t about the future at all. It was also timely if you were the right age to have just grown out of Whizzer and Chips, Whoopee! and Dandy.
    It’s great to see the resurgence in this kind of alternative education going on under the radars of those of us who are now the age our parents were.
    Your post reminds me that my official education at university, which wasn’t in anything practical or career-oriented, might not have been mis-spent after all. Thanks Alastair!

    • I remember Whizzer and Chips: there were two comics in one and you were supposed to choose which one you supported!
      Reading these old 2000AD stories now, it’s also fun to see what people couldn’t predict, like email and the Internet.There’s one Judge Dredd tale, Sob Story, where the winner of a game show gets money sent to them by the public, and everyone posts him or her cash!

      • Perhaps there’s an analysis to be had over why Whizzer and Chips expected its readers to make that choice? I remember when growing out of it that it seemed absurd that anyone should need to pick sides in what seemed to be a daft choice anyway. Chip-ites were aimed at mindless thugs while Whizz-kids were what most ten year-old boys would like to think they are. Looking back, it strikes me as unlikely that many mindless thugs would read comics, making the structure a light-hearted good vs evil narrative that exploited growing egos. There was a flurry of cultural studies research once that claimed that there was a rise in bullying in the 1980s to compensate for father-figures disappearing at a time of rising unemployment. Maybe the comic relates to that in some way?

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