An Interview with John Wagner

DB28This interview originally appeared in Dogbreath Issue 28, March 2014. You can get copies from Futurequake Press, I reviewed the magazine on 9th March 2014.

Dogbreath is a Fanzine dedicated to Strontium Dog, created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra for Starlord in 1978. When Starlord merged with 2000AD the strip followed and has proven to be a continued success.

Strontium Dog follows the exploits of Johnny Alpha, a mutant from Milton Keynes in the 22nd Century.

I was thrilled to be asked to do this interview with writer John Wagner by the editors of Dogbreath. I did a second interview for the same issue with the artist Carlos Ezquerra,

I’m a fan so to get to interview John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra was amazing. If you have a look around my blog I’ve done quite a few interviews and I’m really grateful to everyone I’ve interviewed for giving up some of their time for me.

Below is the original version of the interview as sent to the Editors. I don’t think there were any major alterations when it saw print.

1977 saw the birth of 2000AD and when Pat Mills was setting about creating the comic of the future he brought in John Wagner to write many of the stories. John and Pat go much further back though, right back to their days at DC Thomson. They left DC Thomson to pursue a freelance career together.

The team of Wagner and Mills created strips such as Yellow Knife of The Yard for Valiant, a Native American working as a policeman in London. They also worked on the girls’ comic Tammy writing School for Snobs about a boarding school. Their partnership ended and in 1973 John left comics.

Thankfully Pat brought John back to launch Battle Picture Weekly. John went on to create One-Eyed Jack for Valiant, very much a precursor to Judge Dredd.

Following the creation of 2000AD John created Strontium Dog for Starlord in 1978 with Carlos Ezquerra, repeating the success of their earlier creation, Judge Dredd.

John’s back catalogue is very widely varied with comedy, girls comics and action adventures. In some ways all these have likely fed into Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog.

In this interview I am concentrating mostly on Strontium Dog. Many thanks to John for taking the time to be interviewed.

Steve: When you created Johnny Alpha did you have a specific idea in mind? Did what Carlos draw influence the character at all?

John: I was given a brief – bounty hunter of the future. I can’t remember giving Carlos much direction – Johnny’s weapons and equipment, of course, would have influenced the look. It’s best just to wind Carlos up and let him go.

Steve: How much background did you have for Johnny when you started writing Strontium Dog? Did you know who his parents were or didn’t that matter at the time?

John: I knew he was a victim of norm oppression but not a lot more than that.

Steve: Nelson Bunker Kreelman is a particularly nasty fellow, clearly he has fascist politics but was he based on an actual historical character?

John: Short answer, no.

Steve: What made you give Johnny a Viking sidekick? Was that an original idea or did you build that in?

John: Don’t know why I settled on Wulf. Just came to me and it seemed right. He was there in embryo from early on, before I came up with the title, the thing that crystallised the whole story.

Steve: The world that Johnny Alpha is from has a Western feel to it, was that part of your intention, a SciFi Cowboy story?

John: It wasn’t something I set out to do, but the frontier worlds Johnny moved through had a lot in common with the Wild West and I guess the story just morphed into a future Western.

Steve: The villains Johnny has faced have been very varied, have any come from particular inspirations?

John: I would think so, though I’d hate to sit and figure out which from where. The Taxman came from my own problems with that particular animal. And I can reveal that my visual take on Blood Moon was – wait for it – Russell Brand.

Steve: Middenface, of all the support characters, seems to ring true. Is he based on a real character, or is he an amalgam of stereotypes? I can’t help feeling I’d enjoy and regret a night on the town with Middenface in equal measure.

John: Middenface is a lot of Scots I’ve known, decent folk at heart with a wee bit of a drink problem and a slight propensity for violence. Actually, Carlos misinterpreted the character description Alan Grant and I gave him – he was meant to have a face impregnated with broken glass and bottle tops etc, like a midden, not just a lumpit heid.

Steve: The Death of Johnny upset many readers, the rebirth of Johnny upset some others. Was there editorial pressure to bring him back or was it your idea? (personally I liked the idea)

John: No editorial pressure, I just got tired of all the carping. I thought I was writing some decent stories in the flashbacks, but it was never enough – it wasn’t valid if it wasn’t happening in ‘real time’, the stories lacked something because everyone knew the character couldn’t be killed etc etc. Bringing Johnny back to life was something I’d always avoided – resurrections run counter to the ethos of 2000AD. But I began to think why the hell not? He’s been gone for a decent interval, I’m the bloody creator, if I want to bring him back why shouldn’t I?

Steve: Comic Death is something that the ‘big two’ do a lot of and 2000AD has used sparingly. I guess the Angel Gang might be one but are there other characters you regret killing off?

John: I regret bringing Pa and Junior back, that was a mistake that seemed like a good idea at the time. But yes, obviously there are characters I regret killing off. I’ve learned to be a bit more careful about it, to think long and hard before I off anyone important.

Steve: Like Dredd, Strontium Dog is a very flexible setting where many kinds of story can be told. Is there a genre you haven’t yet used that you think Johnny would suit?

John: I’ve never given it much thought – but I will now.

Steve: Is there any character you haven’t written for 2000AD that you’d like to?

John: No. I prefer to write my own characters. I’ve done a few that I didn’t create, but I always feel more comfortable when I’m working to my own rules.

Steve: And finally, I ask this of most people I interview but not everyone answers this one – What question have you never been asked that you think needs answering?

John: I think it would be: What question have you never been asked that you think needs answering. And so ad infinitum. I think.

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