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Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Mighty One: My Life Inside the Nerve Centre

Reviewing Steve MacManus's autobiography has been a slightly bizarre experience as I'm of an age that means I was there. Not in the editorial offices of IPC where he worked on Valiant, Battle Picture Weekly, 2000AD and Crisis, but at the other end of the food chain... the reader and consumer of these wonderful papers that filled my childhood.

In the autumn of 1973, when Steve joined the editorial staff of Valiant, I was eleven and had been reading the paper for four years, and whilst I only dipped into Battle Picture Weekly when it first came out, I was an avid reader of Action, which drew me back into comics when I was thirteen—I'd given them up, briefly, in favour of Speed & Power, which I picked up mostly for the reprinted SF stories of Arthur C. Clarke. I would have recognised Steve as "Action Man" had he come to the Essex village I grew up in. He then morphed into "Tharg the Mighty" via Star Lord—science fiction comics published during my teenage years when I read nothing but SF.

So my comics' reading paralleled Steve's editorial career for the two decades covered in his book and that has doubled the fun I've had reading it, reliving, for instance, the joy of picking up the first issue of Action while Steve describes how the paper was put together.

It's the kind of book that will have you digging through your collection to relive old stories that you may not have read for years. Sam Slade, Ro-Busters, Strontium Dog, The A.B.C. Warriors... fantastic strips that were the core of 2000AD's success during Steve's early tenure on the paper. You'll want to haul out of storage the issues that come under discussion: for instance, Steve's yarn about how Kev O'Neil Ro-Busters artwork had to be changed by managerial dictat relates to the episode in Prog 112; and his description of a hallucinogenic Bolland cover, which could easily have led to more managerial trouble, was for Prog 172.

As well as charting the rise of 2000AD to its peak, Steve also covers some of the low points and behind-the-scenes problems faced by the paper, from internal battles with management and unions to discovering (as happened in 1981) that the comic had been reported to the Press Council by Portsmouth Association of Community Standards due to a sequence in a Strontium Dog story ('The Bad Boys Bust, Progs 194-197). Breaking away from 2000AD and launching Crisis led to its own problems when trying to persuade the publisher that an adult comic was worth investing in... immediately followed by the pulling of Skin, just the kind of challenging strip that the paper should have been championing, and the demise of the whole adult line of Crisis, Revolver and Xpresso.

The book ends, bar a brief postscript chapter, in 1992, around the same time as licensed comics became more dominant in the British market. Hopefully a story for a sequel (which will bring the life and times of MacManus up-to-date... at least as far as last Wednesday's contribution to Bear Alley).

Joyful, fast-paced, chock-full of anecdotes and sidelines into how comics were put together in the days of cow gum and copy-editing double-spaced typescripts, The Mighty One is a mighty good book.

The Mighty One: My Life Inside The Nerve Centre by Steve MacManus. 2000 AD 978-1781-08475-5, 7 September 2016, 298pp, £9.99. Cover photo by Kevin Bezant. Order directly from Rebellion (hardcover (signed ltd. edition) (sold out) / softcover) or via Amazon (softcover).

Update: As of 31 August—a week ahead of publication—Rebellion announced that the signed, limited edition hardcover had sold out.

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