If you’re a fan of British comics it possibly hasn’t escaped your notice that 2000AD was launched this week(ish) in the year 1977. Forty-three years ago, that was: some of the photons that left our sun on the day the comic was launched have potentially now travelled all the way to the binary star system of SZ Crateris. That’s about 252,780,891,046,895 miles (or a tad over four quintillion hands, if you’re the sort of person who for some reason can only understand measurements in terms of horses).
I’m being deliberately less than specific about the actual date of publication of the first issue of 2000AD because while that issue’s cover date is 26 February 1977, in most parts of the UK and Ireland the comic would have reached the shops around about a week before that: in those days the purpose of the cover date was to let the newsagent know when to take the comic off the shelf and replace it with the latest issue.
And speaking of that hypothetical newsagent, suppose you wandered into their store on or around this date in 1977… Which other British comics might you have seen on the shelves? Well, wonder no longer, chums — and, indeed, pals — for your diligent and vigilant Uncle Rusty has anticipated your needs and invented a brand-new ChronoCamera™, a device that lets him peer into the past and was in no way nicked from the recent mention of such a thing here on this very blog.
So here are the contents of a typical newsagent’s comic shelves forty-three years in the past, presented in chronological order of their launch date.
The Dandy #1840
(DC Thomson, 4 Dec 1937 to 4 Dec 2012, 3610 issues)
The Beano #1806
(DC Thomson, 30 Jul 1938 to present, 4022+ issues)
TV Comic #1315
(TV Publications / Polystyle Publications, 9 Nov 1951 to 29 Jun 1984, 1697 issues)
(IPC, 11 Sep 1954 to 30 Mar 1985, 1554 issues)
(IPC, 10 Sep 1956 to 20 Oct 1977, 1009 issues)
(DC Thomson, 18 Jan 1958 to 17 Feb 2001, 2249 issues)
War Picture Library #1323, #1324, #1325
(IPC, 1 Sep 1958 to 3 Dec 1984, 2103 issues)
(DC Thomson, 24 Oct 1959 to 24 Jan 1981, 1110 issues)
(DC Thomson, 16 Jan 1960 to 11 May 1991, 1635 issues)
(IPC, 18 May 1960 to 4 Jan 2000, 1902 issues)
(DC Thomson, 25 Feb 1961 to 21 Nov 1992, 1657 issues)
Commando #1105 & #1106
(DC Thomson, 1 July 1961 to present, 5310+ issues)
Look and Learn #789
(IPC, 29 Jan 1962 to 17 May 1982, 1049 issues)
(DC Thomson, 11 Jan 1964 to 3 May 1980, 1534 issues)
Shoot! [Issue number unknown]
(IPC, 19 Aug 1960 to 24 Jun 2008, 1717 issues)
Whizzer and Chips #382
(IPC, 18 Oct 1969 to 17 Oct 1990, 1092 issues)
The Wizard #368
(DC Thomson, 14 Feb 1970 to 25 Jun 1978, 435 issues)
(ITP / IPC, 9 Jan 1971 to 12 Mar 1994, 1210 issues)
Tammy [issue number unknown]
(IPC, 6 Feb 1971 to 23 Jun 1984, 699 issues)
The Mighty World of Marvel #230
(Marvel UK, 7 Oct 1972 to 1 May 1983, 397 issues)
Super Spider-Man and the Titans #211
(Marvel UK, 17 Feb 1973 to 14 Dec 1985, 666 issues)
(IPC, 9 Mar 1974 to 30 Mar 1985, 572 issues)
(IPC, 11 May 1974 to 21 Nov 1981, 393 issues)
(DC Thomson, 28 Sep 1974 to 27 Sep 1986, 627 issues)
Planet of the Apes #123 — final issue!
(Marvel UK, 26 Oct 1974 to 26 Feb 1977, 123 issues)
(IPC, 8 Feb 1975 to 29 Aug 1981, 342 issues)
Battle Picture Weekly #104
(IPC, 8 Mar 1975 to 23 Jan 1988, 664 issues)
Mickey Mouse #71
(IPC, 25 Oct 1975 to 29 Nov 1990, 263 issues)
Magic Comic #57
(DC Thomson, 31 Jan 1976 to 24 Feb 1979, 161 issues)
(IPC, 14 Feb 1976 to 12 Nov 1977, 86 issues)
(DC Thomson, 14 Feb 1976 to 2 Dec 1978, 147 issues)
Roy of the Rovers #23
(IPC, 25 Sep 1976 to 1 Mar 1995, 872 issues)
(DC Thomson, 25 Sep 1976 to 14 Jan 1978, 69 issues)
Captain Britain #20
(Marvel UK, 13 Oct 1976 to 6 Jul 1977, 39 issues)
House of Hammer #4
(Top Sellers / Quality Communications, 13 Oct 1976 to 1 Nov 1984, 30 issues)
(IPC, 16 Oct 1976 to 15 May 1978, 79 issues)
Read to Me #5
(Polystyle Publications, 17 Jan 1977 to 4 Aug 1977, 28 issues)
Disney Time #5
(IPC, 29 Jan 1977 to 18 Jun 1977, 21 issues)
All this lot would have cost you £3.72 (or 790½ galactic groats on Mercury, judging by the prices on the cover of issue #3 of 2000AD), which was no small sum given that the average weekly wage was about £61.88. (£3.72 equates to about £21.38 today, which would be pretty cheap for forty-odd comics.)
But, wait… there’s more! Also on sale that week — maybe tucked away behind other comics, or perhaps even sold out, or in some other way undetectable to Uncle Rusty’s somewhat trusty ChronoCamera™ (that is: I couldn’t find the right covers in my collection or on-line) — were these other fine publications: The Topper #1256, The Beezer #1102, Sparky #632, Pippin #545, Mandy #528, Twinkle #475, Debbie #211, Pink #204, Toby #57, See-Saw #21, Oh Boy #19 and Blue Jeans #5. Plus Jack and Jill and Playhour, neither of which used issue numbers.
And let’s not forget those comics whose allergy to cover dates makes them very hard to pin down. With a fair bit of detective work I managed to find the issues of Commando and War Picture Library that I believe were published in the last week of February 1977, though Battle Picture Library, Mad, Bunty Picture Story Library for Girls, Judy Picture Story Library for Girls and Star Love Stories have all eluded me.
It’s a safe bet that there were other comics on the shelves that week, too. Not just the occasional American import, but also some of those infuriatingly nebulous Alan Class Comics that would seek to drag an innocent collector far beyond the brink of madness: Creepy Worlds, Secrets of the Unknown, Amazing Stories of Suspense, Uncanny Tales, Sinister Tales and Astounding Stories.
2000AD wasn’t the first British science fiction comic, not by a long way, nor was it the most revolutionary title of its time — I’d argue that Battle Picture Weekly broke more ground — but it started strong and stayed strong. At the hands of some massively talented creators and guided by a series of strong and insightful editors, the weekly prog soared as the seventies were shunted aside by the padded shoulders of the eighties while almost all of its rivals (and siblings) began to sputter and fade.
Of all the comics listed here only The Beano, Commando and 2000AD have survived, but, hey, only one of those three was ever available on other planets (in exchange for the appropriate amount of galactic groats, of course).
When 2000AD was approaching its twenty-fifth anniversary, I broke the habit of a lifetime and actually wrote a letter to the comic. It was printed in prog #1281, dated 6 March 2002, though sadly the letter-opening droid lost my name from the e-mail (but, strangely, not the contents of that e-mail) so the letter is credited to Nameless Earthlet.
Full disclosure: when transcribing my diary entry in 2002 I couldn’t clearly read the date — thanks to marker bleed-through from the other side of the page — so I just made a guess based on the comic’s cover-date. But now I know better: the actual date of the diary entry was more likely Feb 17th or 18th, not 24th.
In case you can’t read the scan, here’s the text:
25 years, eh? Congratulations! I have to admit that I’ve strayed from time to time, but I always come back, and there’ll always be a special place for 2000 AD inside my motion lotion distribution unit. Anyway, to the main point of this missive: this morning I was reading through an old diary and I came across a rather interesting entry. I was ten years and eleven months old at the time of writing — I’ve preserved all the mistakes and bad grammar for posterity!
24th Feb 1977
Last night I got the new comic that they were talking about on the radio. its called 2000 A.D. and its very good. The comics came into the shop when I was there so I am the first one to get it. Brian got his today after school and Robert hasent got his yet.
The first story is Invasion!. Its a war story but its in the future even though it dosent look like the future. The only thing futurish about it is the first sentence. “This is BBC Three.” I really like Dan Dare but Dad said that they changed him from when he was in Eagle. M.A.C.H.1 is copied from Steve Austin and even looks like him in the last drawing. Flesh has cowboys fighting dinosaurs just like The Valley of the Gwangi which was on TV last year. The best story is Harlem Heroes and it has the best art apart from the last page which looks like it was drawn by a different artist.
The comic is a lot like Action but not as bloody. One thing thats very diffrent from other comics is that their are no sound effects like Crash! or Bang!
My Space Spinner went into next doors garden the first time I threw it so I have to wait until they get home from work before I can get it back.
Next week 2000 A.D. will have free stickers and a new story called Judge Dredd. If its any good I will stop buying Bullet and buy 2000 A.D. instead.
So there you go! Unfortunately my diary-keeping was rather patchy, so I’ve no record of my first impressions of Judge Dredd. However, I did indeed stop buying Bullet so I must have been impressed.
Over the following weeks, my friends and I became avid fans. We played at being Judge Dredd, John Probe and Dan Dare, our Space Spinners made a lot more visits to the neighbours’ gardens, we waited eagerly for the arrival of each new prog every Thursday afternoon, we speculated on what the comic would be called after the year 2000, we invented our own land-based version of Aeroball, and we drew up survival plans for the imminent Volgan invasion.
1977… It was a glorious year, and we had a lot of fun. Thanks!
Nameless Earthlet, via email
My pleasure, Earthlet. it is reward enough to learn of the impact and enduring influence the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic has had upon a whole Terran generation. But make sure you contact the Nerve Centre with your name and postal address to receive your exclusive set of 2000 AD postcards!