What’s the biggest challenge facing the editor of an iconic comic book? Steve MacManus and his successor David Bishop, both of whom were long-standing editors of British institution 2000AD, agreed that it was having to act as a buffer between firebrand creators and profit-obsessed management.
Speaking at an event scheduled to celebrate the 40th anniversary of 2000AD, MacManus and Bishop pulled few punches when discussing the ineptitude of the marketing executives who’d repeatedly failed to grasp the comic’s purpose and identity over the decades. Both men also acknowledged that the top priority for any editor was just making sure that the comic went to the printers on time, but beyond this differed somewhat in their respective approaches, which were very much dictated by external factors. When MacManus became editor in 1979, the comic was at the beginning of a commercial and artistic golden age which lasted until the mid-1980s. This meant that he was able to take a relatively ‘hands-off’ approach with iconic creators like Alan Grant, John Wagner and Pat Mills, while taking a chance on new talent like Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison. Bishop’s stint on the comic was markedly different, beginning in the wilderness years of the mid-1990s, with readership at an all-time low and a parent company who just didn’t understand what 2000AD was supposed to be.
Probably because of this, Bishop’s reminiscences were much more interesting than those of MacManus. His stories of attempting to grow the comic’s readership without alienating long-term fans made for a compelling underdog tale, despite smacking occasionally of self-aggrandisement. Having seemed a little under-prepared throughout the event, chair David Pollock eventually fell back on cheap sensationalism by asking the two former editors for horror stories about difficult creators, which enabled Bishop to once again air dirty laundry about his many spats with Pat Mills. There was a pettiness to this part of the event which left a slightly sour taste in the mouth, but Pollock’s final question drew attention back to the remarkable continued success of 2000AD. Why, he asked, is the comic still going after 40 years? Bishop said it was simply down to having great stories and art work, and the fact that the material has grown up with its audience. MacManus unsurprisingly joked that the secret was having good editors!