Alan Grant obituary

·5-min read

When the comic book writer Alan Grant, who has died aged 73, was at school in Scotland in the 1950s, he was regularly beaten by his teachers for being left-handed, and frequently excluded for rebellious behaviour. So it is perhaps surprising that he went on to write celebrated runs of the adventures of two of the most authoritarian comic characters — Judge Dredd and Batman.

Or perhaps not. Judge Dredd, which debuted in the British sci-fi weekly 2000AD in 1977, is a sharp satire on an all-powerful future police state, while Batman is the brooding vigilante who has to mete out justice because the corrupt authorities are failing in their job. So maybe Grant’s writing was in some way revenge for the injustices he suffered as a child.

Grant continued to fall foul of authority after school — in 1969 he spent three months in prison for possession of half a tab of LSD, a circumstance that later formed the basis of a story for his 2000AD strip, Mazeworld, created with the artist Arthur Ranson, which debuted in 1996.

Alan Grant began writing comic book stories at DC Thomson in Dundee.
Alan Grant began writing comic book stories at DC Thomson in Dundee. Photograph: Graham Harrison/Shutterstock

In fact, Grant imbued all his comic book writing with his experiences and political beliefs, though the latter were often as quirky as the strips he wrote. He said in a 2021 interview that he was thrown out of the Young Conservatives for being too leftwing, and shown the door by the Socialist party for being too Conservative-minded, adding that “basically, what both parties were saying was that I was just too argumentative for either of them”.

One Judge Dredd story he wrote, John Cassavetes Is Dead, even had the titular law-enforcer questioning the totalitarianism of the regime he has sworn to uphold as he is forced to sentence an elderly man to 10 years’ imprisonment for possessing banned literature from the 20th century, including newspapers, novels and comic books. The story appeared in 1989, in the wake of the UK government enacting its controversial Section 28 regulation banning schools from promoting homosexuality.

Grant often wrote in collaboration with John Wagner, who was one of the founders of 2000AD along with its editor Pat Mills, and together they wrote some of the stories considered to represent the golden age of Judge Dredd, including the long-running Apocalypse War saga, feeding directly into 80s nuclear anxiety.

They also worked on the Strontium Dog strip, about a group of feared and hated mutants suffering prejudice, as well as more madcap series such as the futuristic detective story Robo-Hunter and the space comedy Ace Trucking Co.

Alan Grant, left, with his longtime collaborator John Wagner in 1984.
Alan Grant, left, with his longtime collaborator John Wagner in 1984. Photograph: Graham Harrison/Shutterstock

Their writing partnership came to an end in typically argumentative fashion when, during the Judge Dredd series Oz, Grant wanted to kill off a popular character, the sky-surfer Chopper, by having Dredd shoot him in the back. Wagner was vehemently opposed, and realising the partnership was not working any more, they agreed to dissolve it. However, it was by no means an acrimonious parting of the ways, and they continued to work together less regularly on specific projects.

That was not the only time Grant would clash with his creative partners. After becoming jaded with 2000AD’s then publishers, IPC, over their policies on royalties and creative ownership, he wrote a final Strontium Dog story in which the protagonist, Johnny Alpha, was killed off, purely to stop the comic using him again. However, his longstanding artistic collaborator Carlos Ezquerra refused to draw it and the story, titled The Final Solution, was instead drawn by Simon Harrison and Colin MacNeil.

Grant was born in Bristol, but his family moved when he was a baby to Scotland, and he was brought up in Newtongrange, Midlothian. After leaving school he worked briefly in a bank until he saw an advertisement for a trainee editor’s job at the Dundee-based DC Thomson publishing house, home of the Beano.

One of his jobs there was writing a horoscope column for a local newspaper, which he would take to increasingly outlandish levels (“Sagittarius, the stars are against you today — it might be safer to stay inside. Do not be surprised if a close family member suffers an accident”). At DC Thomson he met Mills and Wagner, and it was through them, after a spell in London working for IPC on romance magazines, that he would later be offered an editorial position on 2000AD when it launched in 1977.

Initially Grant was charged with finding new talent for 2000AD and its other comics, and helped to discover the writer Alan Moore, who penned Watchmen and V for Vendetta, by pulling one of his very first comic scripts out from the slush pile.

Grant quit the job in 1980 but was then offered work as a co-writer of scripts by Wagner, who was overloaded with projects at the time. That forged their collaborative writing career, and even after they had stopped writing together for 2000AD, they reunited in the late 80s to work for the American publisher DC on some of its top characters, including The Outcasts, Lobo and Batman.

With his wife, Susan, a graphic designer, Grant lived in the village of Moniaive in Dumfries and Galloway, where the pair organised a regular comics festival in a bid to help revitalise the community after its economy was devastated by foot-and-mouth disease in 2001. Considered a supportive and encouraging figure on the comics scene, he also worked with Moniaive residents to produce a comic book in 2020 chronicling their experiences with Covid.

Although he had suffered ill health for a number of years he continued to write, his most recent work being a 2000AD story about Judge Anderson, the psychic compatriot of Judge Dredd, in 2018, and in 2020 a story for a special edition celebrating the vintage war comic Battle.

He is survived by Susan and by their daughter, Shalla.

• Alan Grant, comic book writer, born 9 February 1949; died 20 July 2022