The tomorrow people
Comics writer Alan Grant has tackled everything from Judge Dredd to Dr Jekyll. He chats to Henry Northmore about going back to the future
We’ve passed several science fiction milestones in the last 25 years with George Orwell’s 1984, Arthur C Clarke’s 2001 and the speculative 1997 proposed in Predator 2. And, while the exact facts within these fictions may not have come to pass, there are certainly elements of what was once considered sci-fi in our daily lives. Alan Grant, for one, has been tackling the future for most of his long and illustrious career in comics writing which includes title such as ‘Strontium Dog’, ‘Robo-Hunter Lobo’, ‘L.E.G.I.O.N.’ and ‘Batman’ among many others.
But it’s one of the most famous British comics characters of all time, Judge Dredd, who has ‘foretold’ the most about our modern society and will feature heavily in Grant’s talk at The Royal College of Surgeons with crime novelist Denise Mina (herself no stranger to comic writing after a recent stint on Hellblazer).
Published weekly in 2000AD, ‘Judge Dredd’ was the future of law enforcement long before RoboCop hit the big screen, patrolling the streets of Mega-City One circa 2100. ‘I started looking through some old ‘Judge Dredds’ for talking points and a surprising amount has become reality,’ explains the affable Grant. ‘We wrote a number of stories about obesity and there are now over two million people in America who weigh over 40 stone. Though we never thought it’d come true because we thought it was ridiculous, they are also eating inanimate objects.’
Perhaps most worryingly, the politics of ‘Judge Dredd’ bear a striking similarity to the post-9/11 climate. ‘Judge Dredd was the judge, jury and executioner, so three branches of the judiciary all combined into one person,’ notes Grant. ‘Of course, this is a very dangerous thing but the state’s response to the supposed terrorist threat was to seize the opportunity to take Dredd-like powers. Al Qaeda is a frightening concept, but the fact that our government is now treating us like the enemy when they should be our servants is the most frightening thing.’
It’s not surprising some of Grant and writing partner John Wagner’s predictions came true when you realise they used the tabloids for inspiration for the weekly ‘Dredd’ strip. ‘We used to buy trashy newspapers to look for material to extrapolate into the future.’
Grant has been writing comics since the 80s and is undeniably a true master of the form. Born in Bristol, he’s spent his life in Scotland and has taken every opportunity he could in getting mainstream characters across the Atlantic, even giving Batman a Scottish great grandmother. He also converted Kidnapped to the graphic novel format for last year’s hugely successful UNESCO City of Literature project in Edinburgh and is doing the same with The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde this year.
Creating characters like Anarky at DC, Grant has always worn his political colours on his sleeve. ‘Judge Dredd’ was a searing indictment of fascism disguised as an action-packed sci-fi story. ‘We made extreme violence and right wing thinking fashionable by writing about it. I feel guilty for giving them ideas.’
Writing Tomorrow Yesterday: How Fiction Became Reality takes place at The Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh, Tue 29 Jan.