John Wagner Interview


Recently I had the honour of being able to put a few questions to Darkie's Mob series creator John Wagner (many thanks to William Logan of Class Of 79).

John's work in the last 30 years of UK comics has been phenomenal - he was co-creator of Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, Button Man and many more fantastic characters. See here for a full run-down of his work on 2000AD.

CM - Colonel Marbles
JW - John Wagner

Interviewed on 09/03/02

CM: What was the original inspiration for the series ?

JW : Hard to say at this far remove. I suppose a distillation of all the war stories I'd read. Darkie was one hard, mean mother and you know I've always had a penchant for such characters.

CM: Was Darkies origin conceived right from the beginning ?

JW : No. I let that one brew. The idea developed as I went along.

CM: The art is tremendous and really suits the story - was Mike Western involved in the creative process from the start ?

JW : Not exactly from the start, but he was my artist of choice. I knew he would give the story a solidity and grittiness and would render Darkie well. That said, when Mike's first drawing came in Darkie didn't look quite right. He had hair. Dave Hunt, the editor, asked Mike to take that off and he worked perfectly.

CM: Some episodes are pretty dark & violent e.g. Darkie being crucified, soldiers dying of dysentery, malaria etc. Was there ever a threat of censorship or toning the story down ?

JW : Surprisingly, no. It was one of the things that made the story readable. No plastic soldiers like Captain Hurricane, this was an attempt to portray the reality of war and the strong emotions and sometimes desperate condition of the men who fought it.

CM: Were you aware at the time that you had created something a bit special or was it just another strip for you ? What was the readership feedback ?

JW : I was pretty sure it was a winner right from the start. Darkie's Mob meant a lot to me at the time. It was one of the first series, if not the first, I'd written after resigning as Valiant editor to go freelance, so it was important that I got it right. I did a lot of reading about the campaign in Burma and lived the story while I was writing it.

CM: The ending of the strip did feel a bit rushed for me - suddenly three of the Mob & Darkie all die in the last 3 issues ! Was it meant to go on for longer ?

JW : War's very sudden. You can be getting along quite nicely, winning confront after confront, then wham! Something happens that you didn't reckon on and it's wipe out. You may be right, a decision may have been taken to end the story, can't remember - but I don't think the manner of the ending was out of keeping with the reality of war. Of all the episodes, the last one is my favourite.

CM: How did you feel about 'Bad Company' - it owes a great deal to 'Darkie's Mob' - did you mind them using the concept ?

JW : No, didn't see the harm in repeating a good formula.The concept would work as well in space as in the Burmese jungle. However, I did begin to feel that if I had a hand in writing it the story would turn out too similar to Darkie. That's why Alan Grant and I decided to pass it on to Pete Milligan. We thought he would bring something fresh and different to the story, take it off in a new direction.

CM: Any hopes for a reprint - as a Graphic Novel or in the Megazine - I think the story really stands the test of time !

JW : Doubt it. Don't think there would be the readership to justify a graphic novel, and it's too different to normal Megazine fare to see print there.

CM : How do you view the series now, compared to the work you have done since then in the last 25 years ? As someone who loves the stuff you've done for 2000AD, I reckon its up there with your best work.

JW : It's hard to say. It's a long time since I've seen Darkie's Mob.The clips on your web page brought some memories back. I like to think, perhaps wrongly, that my writing is a little more sophisticated now, but Darkie probably set the tone for everything that came after.

CM : When do we get the 'Shorty's Mob' sequel in 2000AD ?!

JW : Try suggesting that one to Tharg !

CM : Thanks very much for your time. I've enjoyed your work for (God help me) a quarter of a century!

JW :Has it been that long? Gosh. Push my bath chair a little closer, nurse, I can't read the screen...

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