It’s Regened time once again with 2000 AD Prog 2280, bringing you all the zarjaz thrills and ghafflebette adventure of the Galaxy’s Greatest, just with that all-ages twist!

Inside the latest Regened Prog, we have a great line-up of five strips, including Cadet Dredd, the return of kid Chopper, a Future Shock, and the return of the kids of Class Omega-Default IV in The Unteachables. And there’s also a brand-new strip, a fantastic and fabulous look at an amazing wizarding world in Lowborn High by David Barnett and Anna Morozova.

So, get ready to meet Androgeus Frost, born of a high wizarding family and spectacularly failing at all things academic who finds himself booted down to Lowborn High, where the kids might not have the privilege of those at the prestigious Wychdusk school where all the posh wizards and witches go, but there’s still plenty of magical ability in the air.

David, Anna, with the latest Regened in 2000 AD Prog 2280, you’re bringing us a completely new strip, Lowborn High, set in a magical world of wizards and witchcraft. But you’ve rather turned the whole Hogwarts on its head here with Lowborn High haven’t you?

It seems to me you’ve cleverly taken on all the elements of Hogwarts and the tale of a certain boy wizard (even down to making him an orphan) and then mashed it up with something that would sit perfectly in the old British humour comics, the sort of silly concept that Leo Baxendale would have had lots of fun with, a Bash Street Kids for failed wizards, that sort of thing? But then you’ve twisted it even further by not going down a comedy route and giving us a classic fish out of water story where the son of one of the wizarding worlds’ most esteemed families ends up dumped into Lowborn High with all the other duds, drop-outs, and those who don’t have the upper-class wizarding family background.

It’s Grange Hill with wizards isn’t it? (Although that’s a reference lost on a lot of younger readers as well!) Maybe a council estate Hogwarts tale?

David Barnett: Lowborn High is exactly that — Harry Potter meets Grange Hill. Very often, certainly going back to my childhood, wizarding school stories mostly seemed all very jolly hockey sticks and, to my young working-class eye, very elitist. So Wychdusk Manor is the Hogwarts-alike school where the wizarding families send their offspring to learn their craft, but it’s a very upper class, establishment sort of place. And it stands to reason that there are going to be kids who have lots of talent and ability, but don’t have the opportunities and connections to go to Wychdusk. So they end up going to Lowborn High, which is nominally funded by the wizarding community but not to a very great extent.

DB: So Lowborn High is essentially the equivalent of an inner-city comprehensive and yes, very much like Grange Hill, which is a TV show I grew up on and which was very representative of my own upbringing. For those who (claim to be anyway) are too young to remember Grange Hill, it was a warts-and-all working class school where there were some heavy issues dealt with alongside the usual hi-jinks. Just say no, kids.

Conversely, having set up Lowborn High, I wanted the reader to see it through the eyes of Androgeus Frost, who is an upper-class kid bound for Wychdusk but whose lackadaisical attitude means he just doesn’t make the grade, and has to go to Lowborn High for a year to prove himself. Of course, he hates the idea and thinks he’s a cut above the kids there. So as well as being our way in, he’s setting himself up for some very big falls, and learning some humility along the way.

Anna Morozova: I haven’t been familiar with Grange Hill at all, up until the point I started working on the strip. Whilst doing the research though, I became aware of how significant that show was at the time. Harry Potter would, of course, be a more familiar reference to younger readers. There’s an interesting combination involving reference points from different eras that contribute to a new concept, which can be relatable to multiple audiences, yet bring something new to the table of wizardly universes.

Lowborn High page 2 pencils by Anna Morozova
Oh yes, surely they do!
Lowborn High page 2 inks and colours by Anna Morozova

Anna, your lush artwork on the strip really does give it that wonderful mix of a grounded, modern-day feel but also something that captures the fantastical elements. You’re establishing yourself nicely in 2000 AD now, with several strips to your name. Presumably, with the elements of creating something new like Lowborn High, the worldbuilding involved, it’s considerably more work?

AM: It is to an extent, though I find this kind of work very enjoyable. Getting an opportunity to visualise and interpret something new feels like taking on the role of a Concept Artist whilst telling a story.

For Lowborn High, I tried to keep the visual appearances relatively modern with Wychdusk’s inhabitants and alumni being ‘over the top’ and Lowborn’s – casual and way humbler. One thing I was looking to avoid though is the clichéd ‘dusty’ aesthetic of sorcery realms. Wychdusk or Lowborn, posh or modest, privileged or disadvantaged – doesn’t mean that the universe’s population has to be wearing several centuries-old outfits and interact with objects that have been collecting multiple layers of honorary dust on them – they must have cleaning spells at the end of the day! Fixing a whole comprehensive school up, on the other hand, probably isn’t in the spell-casting budget plus the kids keep wrecking it anyway (as very much evident in the first episode!).

Can you tell us a little about the work involved putting the strip together? What sort of chats did the pair of you have when coming up with Lowborn High and how did what you imagined come together for the finished strip?

AM: I believe Lowborn High originally had a different co-creator assigned to it: Philip Bond (no pressure, right?). I remember seeing it scheduled for the same Regened issue in which Viva Forever appeared (Prog 2220 – written by David Baillie with line art by myself). For reasons unknown to me, the original plan didn’t work out and the script had to wait on a new artist to step in. After finishing illustrating John Tomlinson’s Terror Tales episode Foreclosure, I sent Tharg a request for more work accompanied by the Ann-Droid comic strip.

Anna’s direct approach to getting work from Tharg!

AM: With Tharg not replying to my cheeky communication attempt on the same day, I was under the impression that I might as well pack up my droid-bag and take the Long Walk to the Cursed Earth in search for other jobs.

Luckily, the very next day I heard back from Tharg who, most likely after consulting with Joko-Jargo, had granted me a Lowborn High script, which led to the version you’re now welcome to read. I hope David is happy with the way the script has come to life; if it does well and we get more episodes greenlit after the second one, I’m sure myself and David can cooperate even more on it, bringing the readers the best result we possibly can.

DB: As Anna says, Lowborn High was originally assigned to another artist, which didn’t come off in the end for various reasons. When Tharg told me he had given the job to Anna I was over the moon. I can’t praise her work highly enough. And it is just perfect for Lowborn High — there’s that almost ethereal quality to the Wychdusk scenes combined with some real down and dirty Lowborn High stuff. It’s the perfect combination and Anna is the perfect artist for this strip. 

But, as a result of that situation, we didn’t have a great deal of time to discuss things before she had to turn in the art on the first script. And when I saw it I was blown away. It certainly informs my writing of the strip going forward and has crystallised the characters and locations in my head, so we kind of did brainstorming by osmosis, I suppose.

When summoning class goes a little wrong – Anna Morozova’s pencils for Lowborn High
Multiplier Imps on the loose – Anna Morozova’s final inks and colours for Lowborn High

One very obvious thing about Lowborn High is that little caption at the end… ‘Lowborn High returns in the next Regened issue‘, does this mean that you both knew that it was going to be continuing when you put this first episode together?

Was it something that was known at the planning stages – did Joko-Jargo love the pitch so much that he greenlit it for future episodes?

DB: When you start a new, original strip you never know how it’s going to be received, but I wrote Lowborn High as an ongoing storyline, with each episode self-contained, of course. So it was great news to be given the green light to write a second episode, and because Anna was on board at this point we were able to have a few conversations beforehand. I’m just hoping readers love the story enough for us to write many more episodes!

AM: Planning that takes place in the Nerve Centre is all under a veil of mystery to me. All I can say at this stage is that I take it as a massive vote of confidence that the editorial trusted us enough to commission the second episode and I shall do my very best on it!

One element that’s often overlooked in putting a strip together is the work of your letterer, so a few words of praise to Jim Campbell’s work here – I particularly loved the whispered panels with the faded grey lettering, that was a particularly lovely touch I thought.

DB: Jim’s lettering adds a whole new layer to the look of the strip, and really dovetails in with Anna’s art and colours to create what I can only describe as a visual feast.

AM: Very happy to be teamed up with Jim Campbell on the lettering – he’s done an amazing job on bringing these pages to their final state. Great attention to detail and a lovely font choice. I do hope I don’t cause him too much bother and leave enough room for the word balloons. I know there’s an occasional panel or two that may be tricky, though I’m trying to perfect the skill of making the letterers’ job as easy as I possibly can. 

Jim Campbell’s lettering doing a fine job in Lowborn High!

What was it that first got you into comics as a reader? 

DB: It sounds a bit pat but I’ve been reading comics as long as I can remember. Even before I could read. I think I’ve told this story before, but my grandparents, for reasons best known to themselves, gave me a copy of the 1970 Fantastic! annual as a present for quite literally my birth. I grew up with that book and its reprints of the X-Men and Thor, so comics were always in the blood. As a kid I loved Krazy and Monster Fun, and the black and white Marvel UK weeklies got me into American comics. Of course, I bought the first issue of 2000 AD, aged seven. And never looked back.

AM: Pretty pictures on news stands. I’ve always liked visual content that is drawn, illustrated. I’d also vandalise books and magazines as a kid, always in search of what I could potentially cut out and use as an action figurine – then I’d sometimes read the content around the actual illustration and comics were perfect for it. The more I got into a story, the more pages in the comics were safe from scissors. 

And from there, how did you progress to writing and into 2000 AD?

AM: It was the right place at the right time. An opportunity came up to try and get into the comics industry, and I decided to give it a go: allowed myself a year to develop a folio of sequential art and, I guess, the stars were aligned in my favour. 2000 AD became my first ever professional employer. I appreciate the cultural and creative significance of this publication and try my best to deliver the best work I can whilst catching up with the incredible back catalogue of legendary stories that had appeared on the comic’s pages throughout the years. 

So 2000 AD was your first pro gig Anna?

AM: My first published work was in 2000 AD and I’ve been lucky to have been working for Rebellion since then with every project being very different and I’ve been trying to push my skills further every step of the way. Along with that I’ve done other freelance gigs, some of which are comics too. I have recently collaborated with Alan Hebden on an indie strip called Star-Nav and there are more projects to be announced soon. 

How about you David, what was your journey into writing comics?

DB: I’d always had ambitions to write comics but in those far off, pre-internet days had no idea how you did it. I started work as a journalist aged 19, and then concentrated on writing novels, so it was quite late when I actually started my comics career. Which came about after meeting former Vertigo boss Shelly Bond at the Thought Bubble comics con in Leeds a few years ago. After I’d told her I had ambitions to write comics and she agreed to look at one of my scripts, she took me on as part of her creator-owned Black Crown imprint for IDW.

Yes, although you might not be as well known for your 2000 AD work (although that should change soon), you’ve quite a number of comics titles to your name.

DB: For Black Crown/IDW I wrote two series of Punks Not Dead with artist Martin Simmonds, who’s currently kicking backsides in a big way on the Department of Truth. Then I wrote five issues of Eve’s Stranger with Philip Bond, which has just been optioned by BBC Studios for a TV adaptation. That was followed by a five-issue run on Books of Magic for DC, in the Sandman Universe, and a one-shot for Archie, Riverdale: South Side Serpents. Then came my 2000 AD career, with a reboot of classic Dredd supporting character Chopper for a Regened audience, and Lowborn High, as well as a story about Tharg for the 45th anniversary issue, and a Tales from the Black Museum short for the Megazine.

Finally, what can we expect from you in the future?

AM: Episode Two of Lowborn High is in the works, so that shall see the light of day in the next Regened issue. I have also illustrated the upcoming Rocky of the Rovers: Game Changer novel written by Tom Palmer, which will be out on June the 22nd this year. Hopefully more news to come soon!

DB: Hopefully more Lowborn High after episode two, and Chopper, and Tharg is currently looking over a brand new strip that I’ve written, which fingers crossed will appear in a future Prog. And there are other projects on the go at other publishers, but, in time-honoured fashion, I can’t mention any of them right now!

Thank you so much to both David and Anna for chatting to us – you can find the first episode of Lowborn High in 2000 AD Prog 2280 – out now from everywhere the Galaxy’s Greatest is sold, including the 2000 AD web shop.

You can read more about Anna’s work, on Viva Forever and all about her process in this interview with her and David Baillie, and then you can find Anna on Twitter and Instagram, and David on Twitter and his website.