I had the absolute privilege of interviewing the legendary comic-book writer Alan Grant, who has given us a fantastically original over-view of his career, interests and inspiration since playing a pivotal part in the comics we all know and love…
Read on, as we discuss his prolific and unforgettable work on Batman, Judge Dredd/2000ad, Judge Anderson, Lobo and his latest works such as Tales of the Buddah among other present and future projects! We get some insight into the mind behind Anarky, and look at how comics have shaped his life since the age of three. We get a glimpse of his feelings on the Batman comics, movies and games; how they have changed over the years and how they have been influenced by his portrayal of the Bat since he wrote for the Dark Knight in comics such as, Detective comics, Shadow of the Bat/The Last Arkham and Knightfall!
Grant has written countless story-lines for Judge Dredd, Judge Anderson and 2000ad with his long time creative-companion John Wagner, co-creator of Dredd. Together they produced the Batman/Dredd collaboration comics which were published as a full collective in 2012, and continue to work on 2000ad to this day. He has had a successful career and possesses an unquestionable ability to write some extraordinary comics, yet he is still under-rated; despite his natural talent to fully embrace the characters he portrays, by handling them with more truth and understanding than most in the industry.
His work speaks for itself… here; Alan Grant speaks from the heart.
(Parental Advisory Recommended!)
Dylan: Who are your archetypes as a comic-book writer? And which part of yourself do you most often express through your storylines and characters?
Alan: This may sound slightly absurd, because I’m not at all a religious person, but I’d have to say Jesus. Although He argued tirelessly for children and the weaker members of society, He had no qualms about resorting to violence when necessary – such as when He drove the money-lenders out of the temple.
I tried to express my more moral aspects through Batman and, particularly, Judge Anderson, tales. My dark humour played a major part in many Judge Dredd stories, and my bad temper was most often expressed through the character of Lobo (though heavily leavened with humour).
Other Batman stories which meant a lot to me were the single-issue stories Trash (also Detective Comics) and The Nobody (which appeared in Shadow of the Bat). I’ve always had a soft spot for the underdogs of society, and this came out in both of these stories.
With Judge Anderson – which I’ve been writing for more than 30 years now – my most personal stories were The Jesus Incident, where I try to explain why Anderson would turn her back on religion, and Satan, where Anderson had to face up to the sheer evil of a being who may (or may not) have been Satan himself.
With Judge Dredd, one of my personal favourites was Collaborators, in which an elderly couple were accused of collaborating with their Sov-City invaders; in reality, they were only doing their best to help an abused and misused child who was forced to become a Sov soldier. Unusually, Dredd saw the validity of their actions and did not punish them for breaking the law.
Dylan: Which Batman story do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Alan: Again, I’d have to say the Anarky storylines, because he confronted issues which are generally ignored in superhero tales. I think I received more mail on these stories than on any other I’ve written – at least half-a-dozen people wrote to tell me the stories had changed their entire outlook on life.
Dylan: What inspired you to write the Detective comics, and Shadow of the Bat the way you did?
Alan: I’ve been reading Batman comics for some 60 years now. He was always my favourite comics character, but even as a child I remember being disappointed that “my hero” seldom seemed to be acting for the underprivileged and needy. So my Batman stories were often deeply connected to my own beliefs about society and its injustices. Although my stories were popular with the U.S. audience, I later found that they’d struck a real chord with people who’d experienced social injustice at its worst – I had many fans in countries like Mexico and Argentina, countries which had recently experienced being ruled by a dictatorship, because they could directly connect with the stories I was trying to tell.
As you say, the world has gone to shit, and I’d like to think that my best stories, at least, were those where the heroes tried to clean up even a little of the shit. Literary characters can be a huge incentive and motivation to ordinary people, and if I managed to draw people’s attention to the reality around them, then I figured I was doing a good job.
Dylan: You have written for and created some of the greatest anti-heroes in comic creation. What is it about these types of characters that inspires you?
Alan: Bad people often inspire the best storylines, but I have to say that if I was unable to leaven them with humour (Lobo, Judge Dredd) then I’d find them impossible to write about.
Dylan: Which characters have you enjoyed writing for the most over the years?
Alan: I’ve been writing Judge Anderson regularly for around 32 years now, and I’ve exorcised many of my own demons via her stories. Other characters I’ve enjoyed writing are Batman, Lobo and Judge Dredd –
it’s much easier to write stories with heroes that you like than heroes that you hate!.
Dylan: You have had a long and successful career, but do you have any regrets?
Alan: When I first wrote Anarky, DC were in the middle of their Death in the Family stunt, where readers were able to vote on the death or survival of the-then Robin, Jason Todd. I really hoped that Anarky would become the new Robin – but unknown to me Denny o’Neil and Marv Wolfman were working on the new Robin, Tim Drake. Although I’m not a Robin fan, I came to really like Tim Drake – but I still have twinges of regret that Anarky wasn’t chosen as the new sidekick for comics’ greatest hero.
I’ve been very lucky throughout my career, and I don’t really have many other regrets..
My cousin emigrated to Canada when I was very young, and he used to send back bundles of U.S. superhero comics – my first Introduction to Superman, Wonder Woman, Justice League and Batman. I was never a great fan of the super-powered characters, but my love for Batman – an ordinary human being who forced himself to the limits of human ability – has always endured.
Dylan: Besides your own creations who you understandably hold so dear, who are your favourite comic-book characters? Marvel heroes/villains included?
Alan: Heroes – SpiderMan, Silver Surfer, Doctor Strange, The Shadow. Villains – Darkseid, Doctor Doom, Scarecrow.
Dylan: What are your favourite movies, does a particular genre interest you more than others, and have there been any that have directly influenced your work in any way, shape or form?
Alan: I like action movies, humour, car chases and martial artists. My favourite movies include Enter the Dragon, anything with Jet Li as the hero, The Mummy, anything starring The 3 Stooges or Laurel and Hardy, Citizen Kane, and several Humphrey Bogart movies.
I think they’ve all influenced my writing to some extent, but I’ve never analysed this too deeply.
Dylan: If you could make a Batman film, which storyline and characters would you use?
Alan: I don’t know about storylines, but I’d like to see Anarky, Cornelius Stirk (The Fear) and Mr Zsasz as characters in it.
Dylan: Who would you have play Batman?
Alan: I thought that Michael Keaton, George Clooney and Christian Bale played Bruce Wayne really well, but didn’t really portray the Batman I love. I’d like to see some relatively unknown actor – perhaps Karl Urban – play The Batman.
Dylan: Two of your best Batman creations, Victor Zsasz and Anarky have both had parts in the Batman: Arkham computer games from Warner Bros. How much do you know about the games and the use of your characters in them?
Alan: I become addicted too easily, so I never, ever play computer games. However, my 14-year-old grandson keeps me up to speed and he’s led me through the Arkham games. I’m fairly impressed with them.
The Loxleys and The War of 1812 was a sell-out hardback graphic novel in Canada, though perhaps understandably it didn’t do well in the U.S. It’s been made into an educational computer app, and the National Film Board of Canada has picked it up for a semi-animated comic.
I’ve also done The Tales of Buddha (before he was enlightened) for Renegade, and am working on Volume 2 right now. I only hope they don’t release it in countries like Burma and Sri Lanka, or I’m in danger of having a jihad declared against me!
I’ve also just completed a new Anderson series for the Judge Dredd Megazine, where – after 32 years together – Judge Anderson tries to commit suicide. But that’s not the end of the story..!
I’m also involved in a new series of children’s books for my daughter’s publishing company, Curly Tales Ltd. They’ve just published my first, The Quite Big Rock (illustrated by my daughter), which I originally wrote 35 years ago for my daughter when she was a toddler.
Dylan: You are known to have strong political beliefs. So what was it that initially initiated the rise of comics since the start of your career, and in turn -of course no one would ever want this day to come! – could potentially be their downfall?
Dylan: Thank you for your time, Alan… And as for DC (in particular) not showing interest in you anymore, I think I speak for us all when I say, “There loss!”
Interview by Dylan Butcher 😀