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What Is Thrill Power, And In What Classic British Comics Can I Find It?

Tom Ewing fills everyone who wants to know the answer to that question in, at Pitchfork*:

Thrills were what 2000AD traded in. It even calls individual stories “thrills” and its stated goal is the delivery to its readers of “thrill-power.” Every British comic started in the 1970s and 80s had its own jargon, designed to make the kids buying it feel part of a club. 2000AD was no exception: It had this notion of thrill-power, and it had a supposedly alien editor, Tharg the Mighty, a guy in a green rubber mask with a telephone dial stuck to it. Tharg really came into his own later in the comic’s history, but the credo of thrill-power was there from the beginning. The voice inherited by Millar is in full song in the first few years of 2000AD– crude, overdriven, hilarious, and fantastically exciting.

Oh, and there’s this decription of a cover of the mag. Which I want right damn now:

One legendary 1978 cover catches the tone perfectly– illustrating the story “FLESH II”, about time-travelling dinosaur farmers. The cover is dominated by one enormous speech bubble: “NO! Please let me drown BEFORE the GIANT SCORPIONS get to me!” It’s crudely drawn, but the picture– people in water; scorpion (giant)– isn’t the point. The idea isn’t to pique the reader’s curiosity, or suggest a tricky situation which a hero will have to escape from. It certainly isn’t to spark empathy (hmm…if I was in that situation, would I rather the drowning… or the scorpions?) No, the cover is pure rampaging thrill-power, designed for grins and sensation and nothing else.

*Well, filled in, almost two years ago. I found it in the comments section for Graeme McMillan’s Brave and the Bold Review at the Savage Critic. I even nicked the second quote from that thread.

24 Comments

Post. The. Cover.

I mean: c’mon.

Call me crazy but I’ll take a “story” over a “thrill” any day.

2000ad is from my perspective, the single most important comic to the American comics industry, of the last 50 years. If not ever! My perspective is admittedly from a man born in the UK in 1972, who was therefore 5 when 2000ad launched, so maybe a little biased but hear me out.

2000ad gave a voice and a platform to a simply staggering array of British talent that has since not only helped create some of the best comics out there BUT more importantly helped modern American comics find its voice and maturity. Morrison, Milligan, Millar, Moore, Mills lots of writers who’s name begin with M really all got, if not their start, then their big break from 2000ad. The artist talent that came from the stable is also staggering Gibbons, Gibson, McMahon, Bisley, O’Neil, Yeowell, Phillips amongst them. The names are too many to list and anybodies list will include some and leave off others. 2000ad launched careers. A staggering number of them.

Now there was lots of comics around at the time that played a part in all early careers of most of these current stars. Alan Moore notably worked a lot on Warrior and arguably did his best work there. Deadline Magazine saw artists such as Jamie Hewlett and Sean Phillips really shine BUT it’s what 2000ad did for British comics industry that allowed comics like Warrior and Deadline to exist.

Action Comics laid the foundations for 2000ad adding a very British (well British in the 70s and 80s) dark humour to comics. It gave comics, drawing heavily from Hollywood at the time, a subversive edge and because of this it was very quickly wrapped up by the establishment. The genius move by Pat Mills when creating 2000ad was to set it in the future. Thus he allowed the comic to give its young readers a darker more subversive view of the world, a more ‘mature’ European take, while the powers that be ignored it ‘cos it was all just future stuff. It was science fiction nonsense. This enabled 2000ad to survive and perversely make a more satisfying satire of Britain and the world in the 70s and 80s. As someone else said somewhere, when the publishers complained that there was someone having their guts ripped out in the pages of a kids comics, they (and I think it was Kevin O’Neil that said this) could happily point out ‘Oh its ok its just a robot’ and on they went. Sure they’re where battles apparently but they were able to constantly push the boundaries.

So anyway the first wave of British talent was snapped up by the American comics industry to produce a host of great and influential comics. However because the comic had survived a new wave was ready to drop into its place, a generation that had grown up on the subversion of the early works and was ready to push it even further. So while Moore went, Morrison took his place. Sure 2000ad lost O’Neil but Bisley took over and so it continued. A stream of incredible talent brought up on 2000ad, learning their trade there, and in some cases doing their best work there before being drafted to America taking that 2000ad influence with them and helping shape modern American comics.

It still going today, still brilliant and still producing some of the best comics out there.

Most of what I’ve clumsily said here can be found in more detail, told much better in ‘Thrillpower Overload’ a wonderful history of the comics that I can’t recommend too highly. Well ok I could ‘cos I recommend buying 2000ad much higher than I recommend buying any other comics in the world ever.

There see that was biased at all was it!

Interesting stuff, Colin. Thanks for posting it.

[...] Comics Should Be Good links to my old Pitchfork essay on THRILL-POWER, a term I use a lot without ever having managed to give a good summary of what I mean by it. (”Earthlet, if you have to ask, you’ll never know”) [...]

Tom Fitzpatrick

January 23, 2009 at 5:53 am

What about ZENITH by Morrison and Yeowell?

2000AD is STILL thrill-powered, but in a more controlled way… Sure, I can see the arguments that without the tight deadlines the pressure is off, and some of the thrill is gone, but I really think it’s improved the comic greatly since Rebellion took over.

2000AD is STILL producing DC and Marvel’s new talent… In the last decade, America lured Frank Quitely, Jock, Si Spurrier, Fraser Irving, Andy Diggle, Boo Cook, Andy Clarke (coming to you soon on R.E.B.E.L.S.), Colin Wilson, Kev Walker, Chris Weston, Clint Langley, – these are all of fthe top of my head, so dates may be out a bit and I’m also probably missing tonnes…

I’m different to Colin, in that although I’m only a year younger, I grew up in Africa, where we had American comics like Batman, Superman, Captain America, Ritchie Rich, Casper and Archie. The only British comics we got were the Beano, the re-launched Eagle, Battle and Action comics (and the War Picture Libraries)…

I only discovered “Thrill-Power” in 1988/89, when I came back to the UK to do my ‘A’ Levels in preparation for Uni. I’d been put off the comic because I didn’t like this idea I had of a fascist thug headlining a comic (Dredd), but a mate of mine told me to read Zenith (he had a huge cardboard box, packed to the gills with 2000AD), and as I flicked through those Progs, I read on into other stories like Necropolis, the Dead Man, Chopper, Strontium Dog, and all sorts of other goodness – and I’ve never looked back (even through some of the real lows in the 90s…)

The beauty of 2000AD is the anthology format. Each week you get up to five stories, up to eight pages each. I can pretty much guarantee (these days at least) that you’ll find ONE story that you like.

AND it’s weekly, so you can get your fix more regularly :-)

Dredd in particular is brilliant, in the sense that as he is getting older and older, he’s developing as a character in tiny subtle ways that still fit with the past continuity (and it’s ALL pretty much in continuity, including the crossovers with Batman for example!).

My current favourite is the Red Seas. To me Ian Edgington can do no wrong. I’m amazed he hasn’t done more work in the US (all I can really think of is Scarlet Traces)…

If you can’t afford a subscription, look at the digital download service available via Clickwheel (though I’d suggest doing it on a desktop – the interface is just too clunky on an iPhone)…

GO! NOW!

:-)
http://www.2000adonline.com
http://www.clickwheel.net

In fact, I just went to Clickwheel, and saw there’s a bunch on there that’s free, right now…

Here’s one I’m downloading right away: Canon Fodder – Mark Millar and Chris Weston – I’ve been looking for the trade for ages – I ADORED it when it first came out, mostly for Weston’s art…

Go on! Try it! It’s free for £%$£’s sake!

http://clickwheel.net/features/229?episode_id=2872

Join the Thrill-side!
:-)

Couldn’t agree more Blackjac one of 2000ad’s great strengths is the fact that its an anthology. There’s always something to like AND more importantly prehaps this allows you to experiment. 2000ad can get away with having John Smith confuse the heck out of you cos the strip right after it was Rogue Trooper just blowing someone away. The editors had the ability to allow much more experimentation. Does mean there’s some self absorbed nonsense in there but its all be worth it.

Judge Dredd as you point out was a foundation that helped this. Some readers I’m sure at times have got the comics just for JD. I know there have been periods were its been almost the only readable thing in there but it keeps you coming back. It means a reader will hang on longer. Also the point you make about the real time aging and development of JD as a character is spot on.

Add to all this ‘Future Shocks’ and all its imitators. As someone pointed out in a thread a while ago these single 2-6 page short stories have been a veritable test bed for UK talent. The way almost all the writers mentioned so far have cut their teeth. Such a great exercise in economical storytelling. You could speculate (and this really is wild speculation) that Grant Morrison is able to tell a story like Final Crisis in his ‘channel hooping’ style because he learnt to write short stories that had to select the moments to tell a tale in the numerous ‘Future Shocks’ he wrote.

2000ad can get away with having John Smith confuse the heck out of you cos the strip right after it was Rogue Trooper just blowing someone away. The editors had the ability to allow much more experimentation.

John Smith is another writer I think would be a brilliant fit somewhere like Vertigo or Dark Horse… I really loved some of his ideas on things like Devlin Waugh…

Actually… what am I saying??? If we keep going on about how good 2000AD is, we’ll run out of content for it!!

so…

NO! 2000AD is crap! None of the current writers and artists are any good! Don’t even look at it! Nothing to see here! Move along!
:-)

2000 AD is, of course, the best comic that has ever been. That more people don’t read the heck out of it every week is proof of our great cultural insanity. My current fave is Stickleback by Edginton and D’Israeli – that’s the wildest and most wonderful series ever. Can’t wait for the third run later this year!

Incidentally, Blackjak, John Smith actually had a little-remembered Vertigo series from the early days called Scarab, and as many wonderful John Constantine stories there have been, by so many wonderful writers and artists, I contend that # 51, by him and Sean Phillips, is the best issue of Hellblazer ever. Well, that or the penultimate issue of “Rake at the Gates of Hell.”

If you’re interested in 2000 AD’s history and some ongoing commentary, you should check out Paul’s Prog Slog Blog – linked up in the second comment – and my own Thrillpowered Thursday, which look at the background, the past and occasionally the present and future of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. Splundig vur Thrigg and all that!

I’m different to Colin, in that although I’m only a year younger, I grew up in Africa, where we had American comics like Batman, Superman, Captain America, Ritchie Rich, Casper and Archie. The only British comics we got were the Beano, the re-launched Eagle, Battle and Action comics (and the War Picture Libraries)…

Ha! Looks like I was born in the same year as you, Blackjak, and I also grew up in Africa (Nigeria, to be precise).

In addition to the Marvel/DC/Harvey/Archie, etc., we got pretty much the whole Fleetway/IPC line–Beano, Whoopee!, Cor!!, Whizzer & Chips, Eagle, Roy of the Rovers, Tiger & Speed, Battle, and all that… 2000 AD was certainly the crown jewel of comics, though. While it was so different from what I thought a comic should be (monthly, American, in color) it was so undeniably brill.

It was a total trip to see so many of the writers and artists I knew from 2000 AD start showing up working for DC, and I think that was one of the things that caused me to start slanting away from Marvel in the 80s and more towards DC.

Colin is right: 2000 AD played a pivotal role in the direction American comics would take from the 1980s onwards.

Last Christmas saw the release of The Best of 2000AD, a coffee table book collecting many of the early greats from the comic I most regret losing all my copies of. Thrill to MACH 1, Halo Jones and Flesh II. Buy it now, you won’t regret it.

I just recently bought several lots of old 200ads from the 80s off of ebay, mainly because I was a Dredd, Strontium Dog, and Rogue Trooper fan. But man, the whole thing is just awesome. I wish it was cheaper to get them here in the states. As mentioned, reading through those older issues is practically a hgih school year book of current day top comic talent. It is one zarjaz comic.

Jazzbo, seriously, check out Clickwheel…

Not the “Comicbookreader format” but the PDFs…

I’m not saying the print quality is amazing, but for onscreen reading, it’s really not a bad way to get your fix!

HAving just said that, I’ve just done a print-out of Canon Fodder, and it looks fine…

@ Comb & Razor: Spent a wonderful year of my childhood in Nigeria! Dad was teaching at the University in Jos! Also lived in Tanzania, but spent the majority of my time in Lesotho (to those whose African geography may not be up to much – it’s the hole in the middle of the map of South Africa… Great fun living in a Black Monarchy land-locked and dependant on a White Dictatorship! but that’s another story)

Don’t know why we didn’t get 2000AD in Lesotho… Maybe it was too topical/satirical for the South Africans (who controlled all shipments into the country)… Mind you they also banned “Black Beauty” (the book about the horse) as they thought it was anti-apartheid propaganda!! :-)

I’ve got a big stack of 2000AD monthlies and a 50 issue or so run that I swapped a mate years ago for some Spider-Man comics, I think he got the short end of the stick on that one, and I’ve picked up a fair few of the case files collections, Dredd, Strontium Dog, Ace Trucking and I had a subsciption to Extreme but saddly I only took one out shortly before it got cancelled. I will admit I much prefer the older stuff to the newer stuff though.

Incidentally, Blackjak, John Smith actually had a little-remembered Vertigo series from the early days called Scarab, and as many wonderful John Constantine stories there have been, by so many wonderful writers and artists, I contend that # 51, by him and Sean Phillips, is the best issue of Hellblazer ever. Well, that or the penultimate issue of “Rake at the Gates of Hell.”

Scarab was John Smith!?! Sheesh… Just goes to show, I never really used to spend much time focussing on writers or artists in those days, I just tended to pick up books with intriguing characters… And Scarab was one I’ve got!! (Somewhere in the mountain of long-boxes in the roof!)

Hellblazer I started with Garth Ennis, so I must have missed John Smith’s issue, but if you rate it as highly as “rake at the Gates of Hell”, then hot damn! I’m off to eBay now! Thank you!

I guess he must be one of those writers, like John Wagner, who just didn’t click with the Big Two and/or the characters or stories they were offered…

Ah well, their loss is 2000AD’s gain I guess :-)

Don’t know why we didn’t get 2000AD in Lesotho… Maybe it was too topical/satirical for the South Africans (who controlled all shipments into the country)… Mind you they also banned “Black Beauty” (the book about the horse) as they thought it was anti-apartheid propaganda!!

Yeah, I remember reading about that…

I love the smell of 2000AD in the morning. Smells like… some kind of fish?

The fates align.

I’ve been considering the contribution of 2000AD recently. This must be why I’ve just found a big box of Zenith Phase III and Phase IV in their original (tatty-as-all-hell) progs.

(Yes, I want them all. No, I’m not sure if they’ll stand up to scanning!)

I’ll try to find some of the wonderful 2000AD thrill dictionary terms over the weekend. It was the inspired luncacy that gave a generation of English kids their own sci-fi geek language before we learnt of the term “Poozer.”

Splundigg ver thrigg!

[...] the future was 2000AD by Garth Ennis. Thrill-power invested illustrative examples courtesy of Simon Gurr. Tagged with: 2000AD, Comics, GarthEnnis, [...]

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