Well, that was, without a doubt, the most media attention that’s ever been paid to a story I’ve written. Judge Dredd: Closet in 2000AD #1817, out tomorrow (Jan 30th) is a fun little oneshot that’s trying to deal with a subject matter that has rarely been seen in the comic’s 35 year history in a sincere way, and that was challenging for me to write because it’s outside my comfort zone. But to have pretty much every national newspaper in the UK running stories on it – I’d never have expected that. And you can certainly argue that the idea of anyone being gay in the 21st century, whether it’s a real person or a fictional character, really shouldn’t be news.
Judge Dredd “May Be Gay.” said the headlines. The interviewer asked me if Judge Dredd could be gay and I replied (paraphrasing) “He may be gay, straight or bi, we’ll never know because he is, first and foremost, a Judge and any sexual feelings he has will be hidden 15 layers down anyway.” But the headlines took “may be gay, says writer” out of context and ran with it. Which was an interesting experience, to see how something you’ve said could be quoted to imply something definite.
Of course, I can’t claim total innocence here. I was aware the strip might gain some publicity, but only, I thought, in the comics press. Mike Molcher (Rebellion’s PR man and lookalike of Richard Harrow in Boardwalk Empire) and I discussed maybe his sending out a press release. Perhaps The Gay Times might run something on it? Maybe send it to the nationals? But Friday the Press Association picked up the story and then, suddenly, it was in The Independent, The Sun, The Mirror. The Guardian…
It’s an odd, conflicting experience to go through. On the one hand you tell yourself ‘all publicity is good publicity’, that this is getting 2000AD and myself some national press. On the other hand, when you read the story itself, you realise how it has so very little to do with the press attention. Dredd, in the story, is just… Dredd. He doesn’t act any differently than he normally does. The first page is a deliberate misdirection on my part. And so it IS manipulative. But I try and misdirect and, therefore, manipulate the reader in every single story I write, pretty much. That’s one of the basis’ for writing drama or a joke. Make the reader think one thing is happening, then reveal that’s not the case.
Because I was nervous about dealing with the subject matter of homosexuality in Mega City One I tried to avoid cliches and stereotypes (judge for yourself how succesful that was) and wanted to tell a sincere story about one teenager coming to terms with who he is. It was an honest attempt and I’m quite proud of the story. It’s way too easy to write within your comfort zone in the normal language and landscape of comics – to tell endless stories of fights and guns and bike chases. And it’s to the credit of Matt Smith, the editor of 2000AD, that he was cool with letting an ‘unusual for 2000AD’ story through and backing it.
It’s also worth mentioning that the artist, Mike Dowling, did a great job on the story. Really conveyed the tone I was going for. Loved his colours too.
Throughout Friday, when my phone kept buzzing with word that yet another national newspaper was running the story I kept on thinking of the classic Seinfeld episode. Judge Dredd “May be gay! Says writer.” “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”