Tag Archives: Carlos Ezquerra

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:

,

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.

FS 52: C’ETAIT LA GUERRE DE ALEC TRENCH

9 Nov

PROG: 102 – Close Encounters of the Fatal Kind

Script: Alec Trench (RIP) (credit also to Alan Grant)

Art: Carlos Ezquerra

Letters: Peter Knight

Plot: Alec Trench, ‘2000AD‘s worst writer‘, curses his lack of success (‘none of his stories were ever good enough to buy‘) and jumps from a bridge with his typewriter chained to his ankle. As he plummets, a UFO appears and beams him aboard. Trench  convinces the alien crew not to dissect him but to keep him for a month wherein they can perform any experiments on him before granting him freedom. At the end of the month he claims his right to return to Earth, confident his story will make an epic tale, only to be told an alien month lasts 10 Earth years. Knowing he won’t physically endure, the quick witted Trench secures his freedom by getting the aliens to pose for pictures and, in their vanity, manoeuvres them into a position where he can blast them to oblivion. Trench then sets the ship’s transporter coordinates for Kings Reach Towers and beams out; aiming to woo Tharg with his record of the abduction.

Shock: Meters off in his aim, the hapless Trench materializes high in the sky beside the building and once again begins a fall to earth. As he passes the Command Module he manages to throw his script to Tharg who scoffs that ‘some writers will do anything to have a script accepted‘. Poor Trench meets a sorry demise at the base of the Tower.

Thoughts: A true in-joke of 2000AD, Alec Trench marks his début in fine form by dying in his only published work. Future Shock 52 isn’t really a Future Shock at all; it is the first time Tharg and his droids were given a story of their own, wrapped around an Alan Grant comedy on the frustrations of submitting scripts. Obviously comedy Tharg stories were to prove an immediate hit as by Prog 129 he would have his own irregular strip but for now the Future Shock banner is high-jacked for the birth of the Trench legend. Trench’s mania and terrible suffering in the pursuit of becoming a published writer contains many lovely lines ‘K-Kill Me? Now wait a minute fellas. I’m a good Union man!‘ as well as Ezquerra’s trademark big-nosed aliens being suitably goofy and gormless. All this in a story about torture that ends in the death of the protagonist. Now that’s a 2000AD speciality. Several stories exist as to the origins of Trench, the nicest being that Alan Grant confessed to have used the Trench moniker while a frustrated journalist working in the Scottish press, especially to concoct ludicrous stories which he would then suggest to gullible ‘eyewitnesses’ who then confirmed his fantasies and provide him with a scoop (half-remembered Nazi submarines landing on their shores etc) . It nicely sums up the humour of the man that he credits his first published story in 2000AD to that ludicrous alter-ego. This is a great strip, if in no way a Future Shock, and one deserving of a reprinting for both the comedy and the superb Ezquerra art.

Shock’d?: That Alec Trench dies? Do you really think Alec Trench is dead?

FUTURES 26 – 50: A SUMMARY

9 Oct

John Richardson’s oddly un-2000AD Future Shock brought up the 50th installment of the series which was still 2000AD‘s only outlet for one-shot stories. As well as providing another numeric juncture from which to look at a few facts, trends and developments in the series, FS 50 (Prog 97) also approaches a point when the series moves from regular appearances (50 in 73 issues) to a semi-hiatus. Only six more stories would appear before Alan Moore’s debut in Prog 203 signaled a re-investment in the series. The 2000AD of Prog 203 was a very different beast to that of when the initial series debuted in Prog 25 and this summary will look at how that change was already underway and how the Future Shocks were maybe struggling to keep abreast of that change even by FS 50.

However before embarking on that analysis some facts and stats to be gleaned from the stories published so far.

WORDS

Letterer Peter Knight remains the name most often on the Credit Box with 26 appearances, one of nine letterers to have worked on the series.

Since the last Summary at FS 25 an astounding 12 writers have debuted in the series although only one, Jan Garczynski, has had more than one story printed. Mike Cruden leads the scripting credits with 7, Robert Flynn has 6 stories in print and Steve Moore, the writer of the first Future Shock, has 5. Jack Adrian (aka Chris Lowder) and Martin Lock each have had 4 stories in the series and Alan Hebden, Peter Harris and Jan Garczynski each have had 2 stories printed.

Examining subjects and twists several reoccurring themes dominate these early stories. In terms of setting Space Exploration features in eight stories, Time Travel in seven and Alien Invasion likewise in seven. Lesser used themes include Future War, four stories, Alien Abduction, four stories and Dystopian / Post-Apocalyptic Earth which has appeared three times.

As regards formulaic ‘shocks’ there have been several strips which defy classification, such as the beautiful spot gag of Casanovas’ 6-armed alien (FS 32), but dominant ‘twists’ do permeate. The issue of ‘Who Are The Humans’ – meaning aliens acting like humans or supposedly human characters turning out to be aliens or robots – is a theme that has been used seven times. The ‘Problem of Scale’, whereby aliens and humans are operating on radically different sizes, subverting invasion or contact, has been used five times. Technology Gone Mad has occurred four times and Vampires have been the shock three times.

Many of the strips that have worked best are those that have a joke as their twist rather than a big reveal. In those that do play it straight there have been times when a cramped final panel has limited the impact of the story; certainly the Shocks where Belardinelli (FS 43) and Garry Leach (FS 47) have been given a final full-page splash to deliver the twist are among the best stories in this batch.

As revealing as what subjects and themes are used is consideration of those that aren’t. Biology, Zombies, Werewolves, Nano-technology, Mysticism, drugs and any concept of religion or gods have never featured in the tales, topics such as Post-Nuclear War, pestilence, Space Madness, Mind-Control and Alternative Earths have only featured once. As the interview with Hunter Tremayne made clear, cold-war politics was also strictly verboten in the Command Module.

PICTURES

The first 50 Shocks have seen 28 artists (or art teams in the case of Ewins / McCarthy and Puchades / Martinez) used. Artists with more than one appearance include; Pierre Frisano, 5 stories, Brett Ewins, 4, Jose Ferrer, 4, Horico Lalia, 3, Trevor Goring, 3, John Cooper, 3, Kevin O’Neil, 2, Ron Turner, 2, Brendan McCarthy, 2, Ramon Sola, 2, Garry Leach, 2, Ron Tiner,2, Carlos Pino, 2 and Vanyo, 2.

Several important names for 2000AD have debuted in the series in the 25-50 period, including series stalwarts Casanovas and Belardinelli. Notable is that, with the exception of Garry Leach and Brett Ewins / Brendan McCarthy, very few of the British artists associated with classic early 2000AD have seen work on the series. Brian Bolland has drawn one Future Shock but Dave Gibbons, Ian Gibson, Mick McMahon and Ron Smith are all absent the Credit Box. At this juncture Future Shocks are still largely either being produced by artists with a very traditional British comic ethic (Cooper, Richardson, Dorey, Turner) or by continental artists. In this latter set there is a clear difference between conservative stylists (Frisano, Lalia, Vanyo, Ferrer) who vary between a light sketchy or furious dirty style and two very detailed creative artists, Casanovas and Belardinelli, whose manic creation would go on the be regular features in the Prog.

THE FUTURE OF FUTURES

As noted in the review of FS 45, these two schools of art, both with quite conservative design sense, are starting to stand out in contrast the art being produced in the rest of the Prog. FS 45 appeared in Prog 90 where the other artists were:

Belardinelli (Flesh):

McMahon (Dredd):

O’Neil (Ro-Busters):

and Ezquerra (Strontium Dog):

The art on display from all four artists,although vastly different, shares one element that the majority of artists given run on Future Shocks didn’t – a creativeness in their depiction of future worlds. Ezquerra’s wonderful mutants, McMahon’s bonkers vehicles, O’Neil’s astounding Spaceships and Belardinelli’s manic dino-hunts all typify the increasingly mature and richly detailed worlds 2000AD was creating. Combined with the creative anarchic fun in the writing of Mills and Wagner, the serialized strips in the comic were moving far beyond traditional cold-war paranoid pulp sci-fi fare. It is also clear that Mills and Wagner are notably more violent in their stories than the typical Future Shock dares to tread. Sadly few of the Future Shocks were keeping pace with this overall change in content and creativity.

That doesn’t make them inherently bad, indeed some are excellent comic strips, but it does show they are flagging to keep up with the creative revolution going on elsewhere in the comic. In 2000AD terms the Future Shocks were still Colony Earth, Angel, and Ant Wars, rather than Strontium Dog, The Day the Law Died or Blackhawk. In part the writing being handled by irregular and new writers must contribute to this, in addition the artists being outside of any developing cadre created by the regular free-lancers robbed them of the cross-pollination of styles and boundary-pushing. Perhaps also the age and influences of the agency artists used for many Future Shocks would have had input into the look of the strips. No doubt by the time of FS 50 this difference was becoming evident to Tharg as Future Shocks were to be radically reduced in number until the revival under a more focused small group of creators such as Alan Moore, Steve Moore, Peter Milligan, Massimo Belardinelli, Alan Hebden, Kelvin Gosnell, Garry Leach and Brett Ewins.

26-50: THE BEST

None of which should detract from the fact that several not just good but great Future Shocks have seen the light during the first 100 Progs and, as is customary with these summaries, here are three of the best as well as a panel that deserves a wider audience.

FS 48Brain Drain – (Script Steve Moore, Art Ron Tiner, Letters Peter Knight) – A future Future Shock before its time, Steve Moore wraps up a laugh at mankind’s pomposity in several layers of genre-poking fun that takes familiar fare and twists it just that slightest degree to provide something fresh.

FS 34The Illusion Man (Script Martin Lock, Art Pierre Frisano, Letters Jack Potter) – A simple joy of a Shock with a twist of the movie Moon which is taken to a superior level by an artist clearly enjoying the madness of lizard monsters with tridents and pouty-mouthed seductresses.

FS 43Date With Destiny (Script Mike Cruden, Art Massimo Belardinelli, Letters John Aldrich) A fun if slightly flawed script that works best as a simple shock and Belardinelli really delivers in a final page that shows a stunningly grotesque rotting corpse.

There have been several great images in the stories, Ron Tiner’s robot-with-a-brain, Garry Leach’s Parliament under ice, Vanyo’s smug alien zoo-keepers and Casanova’s whole alien world however the crown goes to the sadly missed genius of Massimo Belardinelli with the fantastic fate of the corrupt fame-hungry time traveler. From the aforementioned FS 43Date With Destiny‘, this un-reprinted tale shows what a gold-mine these stories can be.

FS 9: HAMMER TIME

8 Aug

PROG: 34 FANGS

Script: Chris Lowder

Art: Carlos Ezquerra

Letters: John Aldrich

Plot: The crew of the star-cruiser ‘Ajex’ flee back to their craft as they come under attack from winged blood-sucking aliens. Crew member Rimmer is bitten but survives however when the craft blasts out of orbit he transforms into a vampire. The rest of the crew deploy increasingly powerful weapons to stop him but it is in vain, finally he has only the cook in the galley to dispatch before the ship is his…

Shock: Cook has watched ‘antique 20th Century movies‘ and knows to defeat Rimmer with garlic powder. With the fiend dead Tharg reminds readers that the only ways to kill a vampire are stake through the heart, exposure to sunlight or drenching in garlic.  

Thoughts: Looking at Fangs it appears likely it became the first ‘slapstick’ Future Shock due to the decisions of its artist, the legendary 2000AD stalwart Carlos Ezquerra. Ezquerra uses a similar style to his work on Bob The Galactic Bum; the faces are weather-beaten with ruddy noses and elongated rubbery appearances as well as being, like much of his earlier work, heavier inked. The result is uniquely Ezquerra but in a more pronounced comedic way;  crew member Rimmer becomes a highly camp Count Dracula and the rest of the crew become exaggerated cast-offs from Scooby-Doo. It all works to marvelous effect and makes a corny story story into a fun comic strip, whose denouement is clear the minute the vampire declares he’s off to kill the chief. However the pacing, exposition and dialogue from 2000AD utility man Chris Lowder (Invasion, Dan Dare,(2000AD) Ro-Busters, Victor Drago (Starlord)  & Blackjack (Action)) can all be read completely straight-faced. The ending may be a bit farcical but then 2000AD was aimed squarely at kids at this juncture and they would see it as far less risible as a dramatic ending. Hand the script to a Dom Reardon or Leigh Gallagher and you would have a perfectly good horror story. Lowder was a seasoned vet at writing comics and his efficiency shows in a great 7 panel sequence where ‘Dracula’ is zapped 3 times with increasingly deadly weapons before finishing off his aggressors. His writing, along with Ezquerra’s dynamic figure-work,  helps to pack a lot of action into a three and a half page comic. If Lowder was intentionally playing this for laughs then its even more to his credit that he wrote it so ‘straight’.

Shock’d? That they still cook with garlic powder in the future? A bit. That they don’t have their own vampire movies but have to rely on ‘antiques’ for the way to defeat the vampiric foe? Absolutely. But as the story pure slapstick there is no real ‘shock’ per se.

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