I’ve recently been reading Paul’s Rainey’s (brilliantly titled) 2000AD Prog Slog Blog, in which he works his way through 1,100 copies of the British weekly comic 2000AD (home of Judge Dredd). If you’re even remotely familiar with 2000AD, I’d recommend it highly – and indeed, the rest of Paul’s site is worth your time, especially The Book Of Lists, which features some very funny stuff.
One theme which I think comes through rather well in Paul’s write-ups is the discovery (or, as appears to be the case, re-discovery) of how the names of certain writers pop up in the credit boxes for the stories. This rang a bell for me – from a moderately early age I recall noting the names of artists (Terry Bave, Sid Burgons and the like) and writers (Tom Tully) in the comics I read. I knew I liked certain authors of books – Enid Blyton or Nicholas Fisk, for example – but in comics it seemed that there were fewer opportunities to figure out who was writing or drawing the strips, and this was something that I was interested in (please don’t take this as some kind of innate insight into the nature of publishing on my part; for some time, I believed that the copy of Krazy comic which was delivered every Saturday was actually drawn by the artists – so the above isn’t any kind of brag at precocity).
As I grew older and lost interest in humour comics (and the comics I liked merged into each other, trimming down my choices), I started to read superhero comics and adventure comics such as Tiger or 2000AD (and latterly the relaunched Eagle). I don’t recall offhand if there were credits in Tiger, but I noticed that certain writers in 2000AD and Eagle (John Wagner, Pat Mills, Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, to give key examples) were responsible for stories I enjoyed, and I started to look out for their names.
Attending a comic convention in (I think) 1986, the then-editor of 2000AD, Steve Macmanus, said that they were very keen to attract new writers, and probably motivated more by the idea of seeing my name in my favourite comic than any realisation that I had a deep-seated need to communicate with people, I started sending things in to 2000AD. I was using an old, smudge-prone typewriter, and at the start I was definitely formatting scripts in a rather haphazard way, and the pages were as spotted with Tipp-Ex as my teenage face was with acne, but I was writing, and enjoying it.
Now, if this was a memoir by a writer who’d made it big, this is the point where I’d talk about the rejections and the first sale and the further sales and so on, but I’m still plugging away at writing now, two decades on, with only a small degree of success. Then again, I’ve been ‘writing around’ college and latterly work, and not always giving it my full commitment, so perhaps I should be grateful even for that small degree.
But, reading Paul’s comments on spotting recurring names in 2000AD, I recalled a conversation I had with a friend a few years ago. We’d written a number of comedy sketches for TV (and I still feel they’re pretty good, even if he has now fled the UK for Spain in what appears to be a belated attack of shame), bundled them into a pretty spiffy series proposal (if nothing else, I can honestly claim that my formatting skills are much improved since the early days) and whilst they were being mulled over by a TV Production Company, we were talking about them in suitably cautious but optimistic tones.
We fell to discussing what would happen if the series was made, and did well, and so on, and m’colleague said, quite firmly (and to my mind rightly) that he didn’t want to be famous. Not, we agreed, that writers tend to get famous in the same way as actors or even directors do (cf the old gag about the wannabe actress who was so stupid she tried to get a better part in a film by sleeping with the writer), and in fact we concluded that even if you could make a good living as a writer the chances were you’d be able to walk down the street without any kind of attention being paid to you at all. Which we both agreed we liked.
I said, though, and I still feel it now, that I’d like to write things that might make people look out for my name in future, seeing it as a mark of something that could be of interest to them. So basically, I want to write, and reach a level of recognition where people would see my name as a kind of shorthand for stuff they might like. There are all sorts of elements to what I’d like to write and why (novels which receive acclaim and sell by the palletload which make points which people hadn’t previously been inclined to consider or discuss, screenplays which make children cheer and adults cry, comics which repay re-reading, and so on*), but what I’m talking about is the point at which I’d like to think I’d actually feel I’d ‘made it’. It’s less a thing of income, but more a level of recognition. And I’m painfully aware that wanting people to say “John Soanes? Didn’t he write that ‘Human Noises’ book? I liked that one”, in the same way that I do about other people’s work, is tantamount to me saying that I’d like to be noted as a writer by the kind of people who note the role of a writer. Which might be the same as saying I’d like to be recognised by people like me, a rather frightening notion.
And, I suddenly realise, not necessarily a million miles away from saying “John’s work was very popular amongst people who like that kind of thing”. Uh oh…
*Yes, yes, I’m painfully aware that these things actually need to be written by me for this to come to pass, but I’m talking in the abstract here. At least for now.