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ALEC TRENCH: MAN, MYTH, MONSTER OR ICE-CREAM SELLER?

9 Nov

Future Shock 52 (prog 102) deserves celebration for many reasons, the first script by Alan Grant, the first full outing in a story for Tharg and his droids at the Command Module but really, pushing aside these mere footnotes, for the first public appearance of one of the true greats of the Prog, a character that was to adorn the bedroom walls of teenagers and droids everywhere, a character so strong he would appear in not only the Galaxy’s Greatest comic but in Dr Who and Battle. The one, the only, the man death could not stifle… ALEC TRENCH.

Trench dropping off another script in Prog 102

Many now know the general story of Tharg The Mighty, alien, editor, devourer of plastic cups, temporary exiled by the Men In Black only to make a triumphant return yada-yada-yada. What is less well documented is his epic jealously and constant need of counselling to get over the fact that his very first strip in his own comic was stolen from under him by the grace, guile and urban sophistication of Alec ‘ladies man‘ Trench. It is impossible to confirm rumours that it was jealousy of the roguish writer that turned the Betelgeuse Bonce his famous green colour.

On Trench’s first physical appearance, in Prog 102, Tharg is quick to call him 2000AD’sworst writer‘ however close study of the early uncredited stories suggest Trench to have been behind several of the more popular ones. Certainly Death Planet and Colony Earth. Many readers from the 2000AD fan forum believe he was also behind seminal classics Junker and Medvac 318. Of course Tharg could not let such popularity stand and so Alec Trench was cruelly murdered in the pages of his own script. To date no charges of corporate manslaughter have been brought.

The End of the beginning..

Obviously with such aggression from an unfettered management Trench would be forced to pursue the next stage of his dazzling career underground. Many believe Alan Grant to have allowed Trench to have submitted scripts through his own name. The uncharitable have claimed that the better regarded Judge Anderson scripts ‘can’t have been the work of a Scotsman‘ and that the mystical insight of stories such as Shamballa can only have been written by a man who has had the cosmos revealed to him by a 20-stories plunge to the sidewalk. However Trench’s legend would not only be the future work he was to submit under the calling-card of others but his symbolism to the oppressed droids working under Tharg.

The inspiration of Trench was soon evident as his posters became plastered over the Nerve Centre walls and in the pages of Tharg’s very own strip. Indeed the very next outing for Tharg, Prog 129′s modestly titled puff-piece ‘A Day in the life of Tharg The Mighty‘ was to show the resistance had already taken root…

Occupy Nerve Centre – The First Sign of Resistance

An astounding tale of reckless lawbreaking by an untrammelled employer ‘A Day in The Life‘ showed Tharg in bed with famed capitalist villain Howard Quartz, handing loyal lettering droid John Aldrich over to Mek-Quake and assaulting a police officer while declaring himself above the law. It is little wonder that in these circumstances Alec Trench would serve as a nexus for rebellion and dissent.

By the time of his next physical appearance in the Prog he would have amassed further six outings on the walls of the brave, talented, rebellious droids. Diligent scholarship has shown that these appearances actually reveal two subtextual narratives that constitute a plea to the reader to liberate the harsh-treated droids. The first narrative, called ‘The Tragedy of the Common A-ALN-1,’ is a tryptic that shows a vengeful Tharg demanding a variety of tasks from loyal droid A-ALN-1 before cruelly concocting a pretence to have the droid despatched to the great sub-editing junk-yard in the sky. A-ALN-1′s tartan hat is placed on the walls of the Command Module as a reminder to droids as to who is in charge. Yet those droids bravely place the hat beside an image of the their inspiration, A. Trench

The Tradegy of the Common A-ALN-1 - Progs 162, 176 & 177
The Tragedy of the Common A-ALN-1 – Progs 162, 176 & 177

As stark as The Tragedy of the Common A-ALN-1 is, the message of defiance is sent out by Trench’s second tryptic, The Dream of Droids. Appearing in prog 180-182 this piece clearly shows that whatever the punishment, however much the talent of 2000AD is denied their dreams by Tharg and his lackey Mek-Quake, they will still keep the passion for Trench and justice burning..

The Dream of Droids – Progs 180-182

Alec ‘Our Inspiration‘, ‘Man Myth or Magic‘ ‘Remember…‘ ‘His Spirit Lingers‘ Trench, his symbolism to the Art and Script droids so clearly signalled to the  attentive reader. Rumours that Foucault was about to begin his study of the control narrative at the Command Module are sadly unsubstantiated, although the inspiration of Trench in his work was clear.

Meanwhile, Tharg was to yield to pressure and conceded that the time was right for Trench to make his second starring role in the two-part story Alec Trench – Zombie (prog 263 – 264)

Alec Trench: on the 264th Prog he is risen!

The story of Alec Trench – Zombie is, naturally, an attempt to smear the Trench legend. Tharg may have portrayed him as a mindless destroyer of central London, but, despite the baseless allegations and vile slurs, the trenchant support for Alec remained undiminished.

But who is this mysterious man of 2000AD?  Obviously, Alan Grant holds some of the information as to whom the figure of hope is, but he has also been actively engaged in a dis-information campaign. Judge Dredd Megazine vol 2 issue 42 saw Grant pen a ‘Whatever happened to Alex Trench?‘ tale that attempts to recount the actual last script Trench submitted but as to hard facts about his fellow writer he seems deliberately obtuse.  The now defunct website ‘battlestations’ contained the following post, saved for posterity on the 2000AD Forums

Anyway, somehow or other I found out that Alec Trench was an early pseudonym of Alan Grant’s, and was able to ask him at a convention where the name came from. According to Mr Grant, he first used the pseudonym when he was a journalist way back in the mists of time, working on a regional Scottish newspaper. Because nothing ever happened where he lived, he used to make up mad stories; the example he told me involved a Nazi U-Boat being washed up on the local beach during the War. Then he’d go and interview the local pensioners about it, and more often than not they’d say “Oh yes, I remember that…” and elaborate on the tale. Et voila! One interesting story for the paper, as told to the reporter by the locals. Genius…in a mad and twisted way. Of course, he could have been bullsh*tting me.

However another tale, direct from the mouth of the Grant Droid himself, appeared on acclaimed Comics site ‘downthetubes.net

Alex Trench was a character I used in a couple of Tharg’s Future Shocks for 2000AD; he was based on the ice-cream van driver in the village I hail from,” he reveals. “Presumably Leapy came from the same place… though I honestly don’t know.

The tale Alan Grant was referring to was not a 2000AD story but one in esteemed journal of truth and justice Dr Who Magazine, where Alec Trench has been given the code-name ‘Leapy’ and deals with a flea infestation. Trench being Trench, is on the side of the righteous and he and The Doctor overcome an alien invasion.

Alec Trench Undercover

Trench’s message wasn’t just limited to 2000AD and the DWM, notable amongst other references to Trench was in John Wagner’s Darkie’s Mob (reprinted in Meg 208) where, like Alec Trench – Zombie, a Trench tombstone is shown. This time the image was accompanied by a message of solemnity more fitting of this 2000AD great.

Darkie’s Mob: Nous Sommes Tous Trench

2000AD, The Megazine, Dr Who Magazine, Battle.. the Trench message was spreading. Can it be any wonder that this time marks the surge in creators rights? Emboldened by their love of Trench, Tharg’s once-cowed droids were moving en-mass to the riches of American Publishers. Could any of this have happened without Trench taking that ‘fall’ in Prog 102? It is highly doubtful. But to reinforce their message and keep the flame of their hero alive the Droids at the Nerve Centre were to keep the printed homages coming. Ezquerra, Bradbury, Ron Smith, Belardinelli all were to rally to the Trench cause..

Prog 0283: The legendary Tom Frame Droid Parties in front of 'The Writer's Writer'

In Prog 284 the Droids invoke the ‘truly Zarjaz‘ spirit of Trench when they confront Tharg over working conditions:

Prog 284: Union negotiations under the watchful eye of Alec Trench

 An inspiration to all, Alec Trench was there when famed ex-Droid Alan Moore  first finds voice of his regular criticism of publishing companies. Comic onanists the globe over have asked themselves ‘Would we have had Lost Girls if it wasn’t for Alec Trench?‘ Finally that other great question can be answered, Qui ipsos custodes custodiet? Alec Trench!

Prog 285 - The Alan Moore droid (far left) first gives voice to his problems with publishers

In Prog 304′s tale of unprecedented cruelty to animals ‘Tharg & the Mice‘ the droid’s show their dissent at complicity in large-scale mice-ocide by including not one reference to Trench but two!

Prog 304: The McMahon droid lashes out at working conditions while the visage of Trench reminds droids not to partake in management mass murder (of mice)

In Prog 309 one of 2000AD’s finest ever artists, Massimo Belardinelli, was to firmly nail his colours to the foot of the Trench mast with the unsurprising assertion that 2000AD’s great writer may have been none other than the nation’s greatest writer:

Yet more homages to the great Alec Trench can be found in Prog 435 (Tharg The Mighty in Exit The Wally) Prog 436 (Enter The Beast) and Prog 443 (PSmith’s Farewell). A unifying theme of all these stories is Tharg’s insistence on bringing in new union-breaking droids and sending the old ones off to Mek-Quake. The Ezquerra droid, forced to draw such atrocities, makes clear his feelings with constant invocation of the great inspiration Trench:

(Clockwise from Top Left) Progs 435, 436 & 443 - When droids stumble, St.Trench is there.

Ezquerra was far from the only droid keeping the name of Trench alive, Eric Bradbury managed to sneak reference to him into not only the Prog but the 1983 Sci-Fi Special:

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The penultimate appearances of Alec Trench (l-r) Prog 467 & The Sci-Fi Special 1983

Sadly, like heroes from Savage to Defoe, Ichabod Azreal to Judge Dredd, Trench was but human and his removal as icon from Tharg’s fiefdom would be complete by the time of the Murdoch-like move to full colour Progs. One last fleeting reference to our disenfranchised hero would be glimpsed, shorn of his beard and lustre, muddied by 2000AD’s era of brown-paint but still there, grinning out at the droids and readers, letting them know that whenever a true classic of 2000AD is there, a Golden Fox Rebellion, a Trash, a Stalag #666, so too is Alec Trench.

Prog 749 - Half A Trench - His final appearance in public.

Alec Trench, star of 2000AD, companion of Dr Who, valiant soldier of Darkie’s Mob, wit, raconteur, doubtless father to several illegitimate children, and writer of that great script you never realised was him, Futureshockd salutes you!

(FutureShockd would like to thank the many artists who kept the spirit of Trench alive, Alan Grant for his ambiguous role as public front, W.R. Logan (for his exhaustive history), contributors to the http://forums.2000adonline.com threads on Trench & a research grant from Quaxxann University). If Alec Trench touched your life, be it droid or human, let Futureshockd know.

I SHOCKED THE FUTURE: HUNTER TREMAYNE

5 Sep

Hunter Tremayne, author of Future Shock 28 ‘The Juggernaut’ was kind enough to answer some emailed questions about his experiences working for the early Tharg and how his story came to print. His generous answers give illumination into the early days of the comic, the comic-shop scene in 1970s london and where a particularly stuffy Base Commander from Dan Dare came from.

Base Commander Tremayne takes no guff from Dan Dare in 2000AD Prog 20 (1977)

Q) What age were you when your story, The Juggernaut, appeared in 2000AD and what sort of exposure had you had to comics at that time?

A) As I am an actor as well as a playwright, I like to keep the date of my birth a secret! But I was a teenager. I read a lot of comics as a boy, but mainly American ones. Make Mine Marvel!

How did the submission to 2000AD come about?

I was working at the London sci-fi bookstore ‘Dark They Were & Golden-Eyed‘. Also working there from time to time was Steve Moore, who was writing Dan Dare for 2000AD (he wrote a character called “Tremayne” into Dan Dare, who socked me on the jaw for talking too much – I was a bit of a chatterbox as a teenager!) I had written several articles for British comics fandom, mainly Martin Lock’s BEM, and when I expressed an interest in writing a Future Shock, Steve Moore put me in touch with Kelvin Gosnell.

'That' Punch - Dan Dare Socks it to Hunter Tremayne in 2000AD Prog 21

Did you have much contact with either the Editorial Staff or the artist Garry Leach?

The way “The Juggernaut” was published was unusual. What happened is that Garry Leach and I were friends, and when I told him that I was planning to write a story for 2000AD (I hadn’t yet rang up Kelvin Gosnell) we went down the pub and came up with the idea for the story. Then Garry drew and inked and lettered it all up, I called Kelvin Gosnell and the following day Garry and I showed up with “The Juggernaut.” Kelvin was expecting story ideas and art samples, but here we were with a Future Shock that was ready to run, so that’s what they did! The only change they made was to turn the Russians into “Volgans”, which was a bit daft as the tank had a huge hammer and sickle on the side!

How did you feel about the published piece at the time – do you still hold a copy of the prog in which it appeared?

Pretty chipper as I was published at my first attempt! I no longer have a copy, though: I lost almost all of my writing and published work in a fire in 1991.

Did you read 2000AD before or after your Future Shock? If you lost interest in it was there a reason why?

When I went to Kings Reach tower with Garry the office was filled with middle-aged men bashing away at typewriters. I was a teenager and decided that this wasn’t something I wanted to do for a living. And writing for children’s comics was never appealing to me.

You’re credited with working on Graphixus ‘The Adult Comix Showcase’ around the same time, what can you tell us about that and did you do any other comics work?

Well, Mal Burns published Graphixus and we were big friends, so I did some stuff for him. I wrote quite a lot of other stuff, actually. I wrote some “When They Were Young” scripts for Look and Learn. I wrote a girl’s serial story for Bunty. The best of it was for an adult anthology comic called Pssst, for whom I wrote a ton of stuff. ! I think the last comics work I did was for an issue of Load Runner.

Did you submit other Future Shocks that never made it to print?
No.
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Do you still read any comics or keep a passing interest in the medium?
No. In 1986 I was involved in a comics project called Bordeline (which is how Neil Gaiman met Dave McKean) and when that crashed and burned it broke my heart, and I never wrote another script or read another comic until Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I read the sequel to that, too. They were great fun, but by the third Alan had vanished up his own rear end, so I gave up halfway through.
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You’ve written several plays and novels since your 2000AD script, what can you tell us about them?
Well, as for the novels, “Archangels” was published in 1996 and is still out of print. In Fear and Dread is a novelization of a screenplay I sold to 20th Century-Fox and is still available from Amazon as a POD book, though the British edition has some enormous typesetting errors that still haven’t been fixed. My latest short story “The Dealer In Strange & Diverse Curiosities” will be published in BIG MAGIC 2: SOUVENIR this Christmas.
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I have principally been involved as a writer with the New York theatre. I am a playwright, actor and director. My proudest achievement is VERMILION WINE, my tribute to great noir movies like THE BIG SLEEP and OUT OF THE PAST. It has had two runs in New York, and I will be directing a production of it next spring in Barcelona, where I currently live. This September and October the Riereta theater in Barcelona will be presenting SIX IN THE CITY, six of my one-act plays. I am directing three of them and acting in two.

.Is there a central theme or interest that has characterised your work?

Unrequited love and the Orpheus myth.

.Do you have any websites or ways for people to keep up to date on your current work?

My main website is  www.huntertremayne.com. There are also Facebook pages for me, SIX IN THE CITY and VERMILION WINE
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Many thanks from Futureshockd to Mr Tremayne for his time and generous answers,. If you enjoyed Hunter’s interview and work be sure to check his forthcoming productions.
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