When comic book writer Alan Grant, who has died aged 73, was at school in Scotland in the 1950s, he was regularly beaten by teachers for being left-handed and often excluded for rebellious behaviour. So it is perhaps surprising that he went on to write celebrated series of the adventures of two of the most authoritative comic book characters – Judge Dredd and Batman.
Or maybe not. Judge Dredd, which debuted in the British sci-fi weekly 2000AD in 1977, is a scathing satire of an all-powerful future police state, while Batman is the brooding vigilante who must mete out justice because the corrupt authorities are failing at their jobs. . So perhaps Grant’s writing was somehow revenge for the injustices he suffered as a child.
Grant continued to fall for 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 artist Arthur Ranson, which debuted in 1996.
In fact, Grant imbued his entire comic strip with his experiences and political beliefs, although the latter were often as quirky 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 shown the door by the Socialist Party for being too conservative-minded, adding that “basically, what both parties said was that I just was too argumentative for some of them”.
A 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 in prison for have contained banned literature from the 20th century, including newspapers, novels and comics. The story emerged in 1989, in the wake of the British government passing its controversial Section 28 regulation banning schools from promoting homosexuality.
Grant often co-wrote with John Wagner, who co-founded 2000AD with 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 The 80s nuclear scare.
They also worked on the Strontium Dog strip, about a group of feared and hated mutants who suffer from prejudice, as well as wackier series such as the futuristic detective story Robo-Hunter and the space comedy Ace Trucking Co.
Their writing collaboration ended in typical argumentative fashion when, during the Judge Dredd series Oz, Grant wanted to kill off a popular character, the skysurfer Chopper, by having Dredd shoot him in the back. Wagner strongly opposed it, and when they realized the partnership was no longer working, 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.
It wasn’t the only time Grant would clash with his creative partners. Fed up with 2000AD’s then-publishers, IPC, over their royalties and creative ownership policies, he wrote a final Strontium Dog story in which the main character, Johnny Alpha, was killed off, purely to stop the comic from using him again. However, his longtime 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 advert for a trainee editor job at Dundee-based publisher DC Thomson, home of the Beano.
One of his jobs there was writing a horoscope column for a local paper, which he would take 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 is exposed to an accident”). At DC Thomson he met Mills and Wagner and it was through them, after a period in London working for IPC on romance magazines, that he would later be offered an editorial position at 2000AD when it was launched in 1977.
Originally charged with finding new talent for 2000AD and its other comics, Grant helped discover writer Alan Moore, who wrote Watchmen and V for Vendetta, by pulling one of his very first comic scripts out of the slush pile.
Grant resigned from the job in 1980, but was then offered work as a co-writer of the screenplay by Wagner, who was overloaded with projects at the time. It spawned their collaborative writing career, and even after they had stopped writing together for 2000AD, 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 in an attempt to help revitalize the community after its economy was devastated by foot-and-mouth disease in 2001 .Regarded as a supportive and encouraging figure in the comics scene, he also worked with the residents of Moniaive to produce a comic in 2020 chronicling their experiences with Covid.
Although he had suffered ill health for several years, he continued to write, his last work being a 2000 AD 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, comics writer, born 9 February 1949; died July 20, 2022