When comic book writer Alan Grant, who died at the age of 73, was at school in Scotland in the 1950s, he was regularly beaten by his teachers for being left-handed and frequently expelled for rebellious behavior. Perhaps surprisingly, then, he went on to write the famous adventure series of two of comics’ most authoritative characters – Judge Dredd and Batman.
Or maybe not. Judge Dredd, who debuted in 1977 in the British sci-fi weekly 2000AD, is a poignant satire of an all-powerful future police state, while Batman is the brooding vigilante tasked with bringing justice when corrupt authorities fail in their job. Perhaps in a way Grant’s writing was a revenge for the injustices he suffered as a child.
Grant’s disrepute continued after school – in 1969 he spent three months in prison for possessing half a tablet of LSD, a circumstance that would later form the basis of a story for his 2000 AD film Mazeworld, starring the artist Arthur Ranson emerged, which debuted in 1996.
In fact, Grant permeated all of his comic book writing with his experiences and political beliefs, though the latter were often as whimsical as the strips he wrote. He said in a 2021 interview that he was kicked out of the Young Conservatives for being too left-wing and was shown the door by the Socialist Party for being too conservative-leaning, adding: “Basically both parties said that I am righteous, too contentious for both”.
In a Judge Dredd story he wrote, John Cassavetes Is Dead, the eponymous lawman even questioned the totalitarianism of the regime he has sworn to defend when he is forced to imprison an elderly man for possessing banned literature to 10 years Convict prison 20th century, including newspapers, novels and comics. The story appeared in 1989 after the UK government enacted its controversial Section 28 ordinance, which bans schools from promoting homosexuality.
Grant often wrote in collaboration with John Wagner, who along with his editor Pat Mills was a co-founder of 2000AD, and together they wrote some of the stories that are considered representative of Judge Dredd’s golden age, including the long-running Apocalypse War saga, which feeds directly into the nuclear angst of the ’80s.
They also worked on the Strontium Dog flick about a group of feared and hated mutants suffering from prejudice, as well as crazier series like the futuristic detective story Robo-Hunter and the space comedy Ace Trucking Co.
Their writing partnership ended in typically contentious fashion when Grant wanted to kill a popular character, the skysurfer Chopper, by having Dredd shoot him in the back during the Judge Dredd series Oz. Wagner was vehemently opposed, and when they realized the partnership was no longer working, they agreed to dissolve it. It was by no means a bitter goodbye, however, and they continued to collaborate less regularly on certain projects.
That wasn’t the only time Grant clashed with his creative partners. After being jaded with then-2000AD publisher IPC about their policies on royalties and creative ownership, he wrote a final Strontium Dog story in which the protagonist, Johnny Alpha, was killed just to prevent the comic used him again. However, his longtime artistic collaborator Carlos Ezquerra refused to draw it, and the story, titled The Final Solution, was drawn by Simon Harrison and Colin MacNeil instead.
Grant was born in Bristol but his family moved to Scotland when he was a baby and he was raised in Newtongrange, Midlothian. After leaving school he worked briefly in a bank until he saw an advert for a position as an apprentice editor at DC Thomson in Dundee, the home of the Beano.
One of his jobs there was writing a horoscope column for a local newspaper, which he took to increasingly outlandish levels (“Sagittarius, the stars are against you today — it might be safer to stay inside. Don’t be surprised if a close family member suffers an accident”). At DC Thomson he met Mills and Wagner and through them, after working on romance magazines for IPC in London, he was later offered an editorial position at 2000AD when it launched in 1977.
Originally tasked with finding new talent for 2000AD and his other comics, Grant helped discover writer Alan Moore, who wrote Watchmen and V for Vendetta, by pulling one of his very first comic book scripts out of the mud pile.
Grant quit the job in 1980, but was then offered to co-write screenplays by Wagner, who was overloaded with projects at the time. This forged their writing career together, and even after they stopped writing together in 2000 AD, they reunited in the late ’80s to work for 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 couple organized a regular comics festival to revitalize the community after its economy was devastated by foot-and-mouth disease in 2001. He is believed to be supportive and encouraging figure in the comics scene and also worked with Moniaive residents to produce a comic book in 2020 chronicling their experiences with Covid.
Despite suffering from poor health for a number of years, he continued to write. His most recent work was a 2018 story about Judge Anderson, Judge Dredd’s psychic compatriot, from 2000 and a 2020 story for a special issue celebrating the vintage of War Comic Battle.
He is survived by Susan and her daughter Shalla.
• Alan Grant, comic book writer, born 9 February 1949; died on July 20, 2022