Pat Mills asks Should Characters Die With Their Creators?

Pat Mills is very much alive but with Slaine and ABC Warriors coming to an end he seems adamant that the characters will not be revisited by other writers. In his first article for ComicScene Magazine he explored the rights of creators and their comic characters. More articles like this are part of the Comic Club Membership here – and where to get Pat’s books, referenced in this article, are below.

When I brought back Frank Hampson’s Dan Dare in 2000AD it turned out to be the right decision commercially. The story, whatever its faults, was very popular with readers. But I realised later that, ethically, I was wrong. This is a subject I pursue in my novel Goodnight, John-Boy, where my three central editorial characters – basically three shards of my own personality – argue bitterly about bringing back a similar series: Dan Darwin and the Voyage of the Spaceship Beagle. SF purist Joy says it’s morally wrong to revive Dan, but Dave and Greg are tempted by its huge potential appeal that could make all the difference to their new 1977 comic Space Warp.

So this opens up the subject of whether comic characters like Dan Dare should end when their creators part company with them. It obviously doesn’t apply to ‘house characters’, like the Judge Dredd universe with its myriad writers and artists where I assume everyone is happy enough with the current arrangements. But what happens to non-house characters like Slaine, ABC Warriors and more when we creators retire/move on to new projects/ fall under a bus/go ga ga

This must be on fans’ minds and perhaps editors, too. In France, it’s simple enough. Creators will sometimes hand on the reins to their approved successors, knowing that on every subsequent story, written and drawn by a new creative team, they will receive a fair percentage in royalties. There’s also the example of Asterix. Artist-creator and latter-day writer Uderzo recently sold the rights to publishers Hachette who commissioned a new writer and artist to produce new Asterix books with eye watering sales figures.

Asterix, of course, is in a stratospheric league of its own. But our British industry shows no sign of paying the creators when others take over their characters. Instead, they seem happy enough to let the stories die. Hence Halo Jones ended when Alan Moore stopped writing it. Indeed, it would be a foolhardy writer and artist who would attempt to continue Halo Jones without Alan and artist Ian Gibson.

Slaine, ABC Warriors and Ro-Busters have equally distinctive creative signatures, so it’s reasonable to assume they, too, will be allowed to end when I stop writing them. Not least because fans know just how strongly we feel about our creations. It’s no longer a legal issue of who signed away their rights to a publisher; it’s now widely seen as a moral issue. It’s clearly immoral not to remunerate a creator for his story in whatever subsequent form it takes. End of.

So today it would be a very bullish editor who would commission some hungry hack to cross that fan picket line and revive the ABC Warriors or Slaine. And today’s older, more sophisticated audience won’t readily accept ‘reimagined’, ‘homage’, ‘reboot’ , ‘special anniversary tribute’, spin off series or any other questionable excuses for getting around a creator’s express wishes that their story died with them. I think that goes for American fans, too, where whatever extra bucks DC picked up from Watchmen ‘spin-offs’ by other writers and artists it must have been negated by their loss of street cred.

Of course it’s sad when a character you love dies. And there are, albeit rarely, writers who can successfully reboot the original. Frank Miller on Dark Knight and Alan Moore on Swamp Thing. But, for the most part, it’s best to leave well alone. Putting films to one side, (a whole other ball game), Conan after Howard, Bond after Fleming and Sherlock Holmes after Doyle don’t really cut it.

The same applies equally to comics. Rogue Trooper and VCs after Finley-Day are just not in the same league. Or imagine Faceache written and drawn by anyone other than Ken Reid? Ken also created the even darker Frankie Stein cartoon strip. I was the main writer on Frankie, when it was subsequently drawn by Bob Nixon, and I actually volunteered to sack myself so Ken could get his character back. This was because his original, rarely-seen Frankie Stein surpasses Monty Python for insane black comedy and we could not come close to it. My editor said no. Maverick Ken ‘needed controlling, needed watching’, he told me. The fact it was Ken’s creation mattered zilch. This inspired the account in my Serial Killer of the sad story of cartoonist Ken Royce. As in Rolls Royce.

There are other examples where new writers and artists taking over a strip is a mistake. Three years ago, I certainly didn’t like the sound of a proposed Slaine-light for the Phoenix aimed at Waitrose readers and, thankfully, neither did they in the end. Ditto when IDW were thinking about ABC Warriors as a back-up strip with no reference to the writer or artists involved. I like to think that didn’t fly because Rebellion didn’t think it was worth compromising the integrity of the characters just to make a few bucks.

And when writers have taken over my stories, it’s always been a disaster. Thus there was a follow up to my Visible Man which Scott Goodall wrote. Rejected by Tharg. There was a follow up to my Flesh scripted by Dennis Hooper. Rejected by Tharg. There was Charley’s War in WW2 by Scott Goodall. It stiffed at the box office in record time and killed the entire series. Although I think I was outfoxed there. I believe my managing editor, Gil Page, who was not stupid, guessed it wouldn’t be a success, but wanted an excuse to kill the series (this was his second attempt), either to cut me down to size and/or because he disliked its anti-authority message and had his own serpentine way of dealing with it. Editors and publishers sometimes think like that.

But this is why, unless there’s an unlikely seismic shift whereby creators are properly remunerated for their work, it is far better that our characters die with us. So readers remember them not with acrimony or disappointment, but with affection. Like the beautiful new edition
of Charley’s War just out from Rebellion which I’m delighted to say has a white poppy of peace on the front cover.

Don’t assume my perspective is a lone one. As I describe in my Secret History of 2000AD and Judge Dredd, ‘Be Pure…’ my predecessors were actually more militant than any of us. Each generation that followed them has become noticeably and increasingly subservient on the issue of rights. Few creators go public with their criticisms as I have. They often agree in private but decline to be quoted. But, back in the day, Don Lawrence of Trigan Empire fame left to work for Holland where he got a fairer deal. Leo Baxendale, creator of so many fantastic Beano characters, took on the might of D. C. Thomson in open court battle and won. And Frank Hampson had more courage than any of us who followed him. Let me leave you with his fighting words.

When presented by a publisher with a Mekon statue for his Dan Dare he told him, ‘I swore I’d get this Mekon by hook or by crook. And I got it. From a crook.’

Shining examples to us all.

For more History of Comics get ‘The History of Comics’ and ‘Crikey’ here

For more articles from Pat Mills and over 3000 pages of Comic Book History join the Comic Club here

To purchase Pat Mills books and SpaceWarp comic go here where you can also pick up The History of Comics and Crikey! Collected

One comment

  1. I agree very muchly with Pat’s sentiment.
    It’s a bit awful even that DC and Marvel are still running the same characters that were created for the 30’s and 40’s. They were relaunched as mostly new characters in the early 60’s by some of the original artists and writers and that was QUITE enough!
    The integrity to the original characters, even to their silver aged recreations had faded to some sort of corporate, committee-opinion driven contruct by the mid 80’s.
    I don’t mind additional “What if” stories being written by new writers, but It’s morbid for a company to pass it off as the same thing.


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