Irish writer Maura McHugh is proud to be a part of an all-female issue of the famous sci-fi comic, says Don O’Mahony.
When the weekly science fiction comic 2000AD hit the streets in 1977 few, including those who actually created it, would have thought it would last long enough to see the year that gave it its title.
Now in its forty-second year, the comic has just published an edition that finally feels 21st century and worthy of its self-declared title as the ‘galaxy’s greatest comic’.
In a year that saw only the first female to illustrate the comic’s cover since 1983, its summer Sci-Fi Special has taken the bold approach of showcasing exclusively all-female comic creators across its writers, artists, colourists and letterers.
Among them is Galway writer Maura McHugh. McHugh has written for a variety of media and comics, and the first inkling she had of the concept was when 2000AD editor Matt Smith invited her to pitch an idea for a story involving Judge Anderson, a much-loved character who occupies the same world as the comic’s figurehead character, future lawman Judge Dredd.
“I actually pitched him three ideas because I’m of the opinion you should give people choice,” McHugh informs. As a writer, she outlines the story and dialogue for somebody else to draw.
As it happens, Smith not only picked her favourite idea but also her first. “So I probably just put in too much effort,” she laughs.
Anderson made her first appearance in 1980 as a character in a Judge Dredd story. It would be much later before she acquired her own strip, but McHugh’s diligence is evident in a story that gives nods to some of Anderson’s most imposing adversaries.
“I just did a tremendous amount of research,” she says. “So I pretty much read almost everything that she’s been in and I’m only writing a six-page comic.”
Her enthusiasm for the task stemmed from a childhood love of the comic. Growing up in Tuam, McHugh’s trips to the newsagent would see her return with girls’ comics Bunty and Jinty, but when she saw her brothers’ copies of 2000AD she was hooked.
She says: “From a very young age I loved anything that was science fiction and horror, so when [2000AD] came out it was exactly what I was looking for. The fact that these stories were about science fiction and cool characters was right up my alley.
In the future city of Mega-City One, there is a branch of law enforcement called PSI Judges and Anderson is one of their most gifted. While rooted in the world of science fiction there is a realism to Anderson and Dredd in that they age.
Says McHugh: “The interesting thing about Anderson is that 2000AD doesn’t do what, say Marvel and the rest of them do — they don’t re-boot the character. So Anderson is actually in her fifties. She hasn’t dropped back in age. So some of her humour has become darker. So her character has changed and she’s been through a tremendous amount as a character and that’s something I keep in mind when I write her.”
CLASSIC COVER: Nemesis the Warlock by Kevin O'Neill for 2000 AD Prog 167 (5th July, 1980) pic.twitter.com/dX1C80uIYu— 2000 AD (@2000AD) July 5, 2018
All female anthologies are nothing new, McHugh points out, citing examples in science fiction in the seventies up to the recent Irish writer collection The Long Gaze Back. When it’s put to her that an all female comic anthology feels long overdue, she is philosophical.
“I always go with better late than never. It’s here now, that’s what I focus on. Yeah, I’m really thrilled to be in it. It meant a lot to me. My young self wouldn’t believe it that I grew up and had a story in 2000AD. That would be beyond what she’d ever have imagined for me.”
2000AD Sci-Fi Special is out now.