2000 AD is greatly saddened to hear that writer Si Spencer has passed away suddenly.
Si has worked for the Judge Dredd Megazine for many years, creating such memorable series as ‘Harke & Burr’ and ‘The Creep’, as well as ‘The Returners’, the supernatural series with artist Nicolo Assirelli currently running in the Megazine.
Originally from Sheffield, Si was inspired to write by his secondary school English teacher, Viv Nicholls, and eventually discovered 2000 AD. ‘After starting with the standard British funnies – Monster Fun, Whizzer and Chips, Cor and so on,’ he told the 2000AD.com blog in 2018, ‘and the old black and white Marvel reprints in Fantastic and Terrific. I gave up on comics in my teens and only came back to them in my twenties, when Tharg got me back into comics around 1979/80. I loved the Britishness, the total punk anarchy, the uniqueness of the art styles, the dynamism, the radical approach to old ideas. Just beautifully British.’
Introduced by a housemate to titles such as Warrior and Chester Brown’s Yummy Fur, Red Dwarf Smegazine artist Adrian Dungworth encouraged him to write comics and the pair launched their own self-published anthology title, called Sideshow, that featured their work alongside both new and established artists.
After starting on Fleetway’s mature title Crisis, editor Peter Hogan signed him up for the short-lived comic Revolver where two long series, ‘Stickleback’ and ‘YoYo were intended to run. Unfortunately, the magazine folded before they saw print.
He took over as editor for a year of Steve Dillon and Brett Ewins’ comics and music magazine Deadline from 1991, before handing over to Frank Wynne.
His debut for the Judge Dredd Megazine came in 1993 with the gothic ‘Harke & Burr’, painted by Dean Ormston. Based on a mutual love of old Universal movie monsters, Spencer described the strip – nominally set in The Cursed Earth of Judge Dredd’s world – as ‘a cross between Flog It and Dickinson’s Real Deal but set in Hell. With hot chicks and guns. And zombie capybaras.’
He wrote a ‘Judge Death’ strip for the 1991 Judge Dredd Mega-Special and ‘Mytek the Mighty’ for the 2000 AD Action Special, before co-creating ‘The Creep’ – another series about a malevolent supernatural mass murderer set in Dredd’s world, with eerie art by the late Kevin Cullen – reportedly a favourite of screenwriter and producer Russell T Davies. He also earned an unofficial writing credit for the final episode of Dredd-world space series ‘The Corps’ for 2000 AD, when series writer Garth Ennis lost interest in his own story.
Si did not join the new wave of British writers who crossed over to American comics in the mid-‘90s. Instead, after winning a ‘New Voices’ competition with his play ‘Tracey and Lewis’, he began an extensive career in television, beginning at the BBC as script editor on cop show City Central and, as a scriptwriter, working on Grange Hill, EastEnders and The Bill.
Years later he met Anglophile Vertigo editor Shelly Bond, who was a huge fan of EastEnders. Out of the blue she called him to offer the chance to work on Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic.
‘[The opportunity to work with Gaiman] is not the kind of offer you turn down,’ he told the Megazine. ‘Neil was looking to update [boy wizard] Tim Hunter from the The Books of Magic and see where his childhood adventures might have taken him as a young man. He wanted to see a big epic story about a war between worlds based on spurious belief systems. I wanted to write something big and angry about the situation in Iraq and the war there. I can’t think why those two ideas meshed!’
It began a long association with Vertigo and his series for the imprint include The Vinyl Underground with Simon Gane; Hellblazer: City of Demons with Sean Murphy; the award-winning Bodies with Meghan Hetrick, Dean Ormston, Tula Lotay and Phil Winslade; and Slash and Burn with Ande Parks, and Max Dunbar. In September 2015, SelfMadeHero published his graphic novel Klaxon, drawn by DIX.
In 2017, he returned to the Megazine with ‘HAVN’, with artists Jake Lynch and Henry Flint. The new series explored a so-called “perfect society” in Scandinavia in the world of Judge Dredd. This was followed by ‘The Returners’ in 2018, in which four different people in the South American city of Ciudad Barranquilla – academic Barrancourt, ex-Judge Mineiro, gangbanger Correira, and transgender street-walker Chavez – all awake from near-death experiences and discover that they can deal with the supernatural.
‘Part of the joy [of writing comics] is, of course, the natural urge to create and solve puzzles,’ he told the Megazine, ‘but in a broader sense writing fiction is playing God. Whether it’s something fairly low-level like The Sims or playing with dolls or toy soldiers as a kid or whether you’re looking at the deeper creative process of fiction, it’s clear that humans like to stamp their authority on things. We like to create worlds where things behave exactly as we tell them to, to impose order in a world of random processes and, best of all, create a world where that order is your order. Writers are just frustrated fascists, I guess; although that’s not strictly true because for me and I think most writers, the real joy is when the characters you’ve created start imposing their own wills and identities on proceedings and take the story off in new directions.
‘For readers, I think it’s the opposite impulse that people enjoy. They like to solve puzzles. In the broader scheme of things, though, the universe is still random processes and the more civilised and organised we become, the more that random element is taken from us. Our lives become repetitive and predictable and a writer or artist defies that by offering us surprise and intrigue.
‘A good artist uses that magic trick of surprise and intrigue for a purpose, to say something true and original about real life. Escapism is nice, but for me the best art informs who we are as people or illuminates what’s going on in our lives. It rationalises or explains things and [therefore] offers hope or insight.’
Strident, creative and incredibly intelligent but always friendly, funny and welcoming, Si will be sorely missed by everyone who knew him, his inventive writing was filled with great characters, abstract ideas, enthralling phantasmagoria, and – above all else – a great sense of humour.
‘As a twenty-year-old in the early nineties, I read and enjoyed Si’s stories in the Megazine, like ‘The Creep’ and ‘Harke & Burr’ – they added a sprinkle of the weird and uncanny to the mix,’ said 2000 AD and Judge Dredd Megazine editor Matt Smith. ‘When he got in touch in 2016 looking to pitch for the Meg again, I thought it would be a great opportunity to have one of the Meg’s writers from its formative days bringing again his unique sense of the strange and esoteric, which he did with the dark, unsettling ‘HAVN’ and ‘The Returners’ – completely unlike anything else in the anthology. He was a very talented writer with a rich imagination and sardonic sense of humour, and will be much missed.’
Everyone at 2000 AD sends their most heartfelt condolences to Si’s family and friends.