Action Man Stands Down

Time for something a little serious. To the left is the original Action Man himself, Mr. Steve MacManus, who recently announced he would be stepping down from his editorial position at Egmont after 38 years in comics.

Born in London but schooled in Devon, Steve began working as a sub-editor for IPC in October 1973. He spent his first two years working on Valiant, before being head-hunted to the new Battle Picture Weekly in 1975 under Dave Hunt. His time on Battle served as an excellent training ground, working with freelance creators Pat Mills and John Wagner, both former editors themselves. Hunt, Mills and Wagner showed MacManus the editorial ropes: “David Hunt taught me everything I know about the process of editing a weekly comic, and how to run a stable of freelance writers and artists. Pat Mills and John Wagner showed me how to appraise a script and, indeed, how to create a character.”

During this two year tenure, Steve freelanced for Action, but was never on the editorial staff. IPC paid him £5 for each of his Action Man stunts, and used his face to front the comic. Steve kindly allows us the same privilege, in strict accordance with the disclaimer below. Unfortunately, whilst at IPC, no such disclaimer was in place and, much to his annoyance, editorial pieces of dubious content, regaling readers with tales of drunken debauchery, were credited to his name.

Although not on staff at Action, Steve contributed to the first five months of the title, writing the odd episode of Dredger, and providing the strips The Running Man and Sport’s Not For Losers!: “Both concepts were given to me by Pat Mills, who also mentored me through each script I wrote. When Pat was working on [Action], most of the stories had his imprint on them.  I would go down to the office twice a week, and we would work out the plot between us, then I would go away and write it.”

Management enforced changes saw Steve moved off  Battle in late 1977. He was tasked to be sub to 2000AD editor Kelvin Gosnell, during the creation of IPC’s ill-fated sci-fi weekly Starlord: “I think it was about Prog 50 that Starlord came out. Kelvin said I’m launching Starlord, do you want to come and be sub-editor?” Conceived in 1977 as a sister paper to 2000AD, Starlord was a part of what Mills called IPC’s “hatch, match and dispatch” policy, and ran for a mere 22-issues in 1978 before merging with 2000AD itself. With Gosnell running both 2000AD and Starlord, Group editor John Sanders decided to split up the 2000AD editorial team. Nick Landau, 2000AD‘s sub-editor, was shifted over to Battle, leaving 2000AD in the hands of Gosnell, with MacManus as his new sub: “They knew they were going to fold the two. Sanders said I would replace Nick. To break up Nick and Kev [O'Neill], Nick would go and work on Battle.  I was to be a sub-editor. Robo-Hunter had just started, it was before the merger with Starlord in Prog 86. Kelvin was the editor. He was probably going straight from the closure of Starlord to begin work on the launch of Tornado, he had told Sanders that I should take over as editor of 2000 AD.”

Steve continued as sub-editor through the merger, eventually rising to the post of full-Tharg with Prog 100, published in 1979. “As a new editor, you look for an issue where you can draw a line, this is where I’ll make my mark, this is where I’ll kick in. I looked ahead to issue 100 and that was the first issue I really paginated in the make-up book. No-one could dispute that then.”

His 2000AD scripting duties included M.A.C.H. 1 and M.A.C.H. 0, along with episodes of Rogue Trooper, The V.C.s and Strontium Dog, for the 1979 Sci-Fi Special. Other stories during this time included episodes of The Lawless Touch for Tornado, a couple of Future Shocks and the one-off Shok!, later filmed as Hardware by Richard Stanley, although MacManus’ and artist Kevin O’Neill’s contribution to the 1990 movie was only acknowledged after a court case that the director lost. Once appointed editor of 2000AD, Steve stopped writing for the title, believing an editor should not write for his own comic. He later returned to writing during the tenure of David Bishop, contributing several strips to the 20th anniversary issue.

MacManus held the role of editor until 1987, overseeing what is widely regarded as the Golden Age of the title. During his tenure Wagner, Mills, Alan Grant and Alan Moore provided some of their best work, New writers were discovered, including Neil Gaiman, Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison and Peter Milligan. Established 2000AD artists Mike McMahon, Brian Bolland, Ian Gibson, Dave Gibbons and Kevin O’Neill were joined by the likes of newcomers Colin Wilson, Simon Bisley, Alan Davis, Steve Yeowell, Glenn Fabry and Steve Dillon. MacManus even managed to persuade Dredd co-creator Carlos Ezquerra to put aside years of animosity and return to the character he had designed. New characters emerged, MacManus had a hand in creating Rogue Trooper, commissioned Halo Jones and Skizz from Alan Moore, oversaw the development of Judges Death and Anderson, Fiends of the Eastern Front, Nemesis the Warlock, ABC Warriors, Slaine, Ace Trucking Co., DR & Quinch and Bad Company, to name but a few.

Steve eventually left 2000AD to become managing editor of the 2000AD group, an umbrella title that enabled him to produce the heavily political fortnightly title Crisis, which initially featured Mills’ and Ezquerra’s Third World War, and New Statesmen, by John Smith and Jim Baikie. The title would later introduce Troubled Souls from Garth Ennis and John McCrea, Myra Hancock and David Hine’s Sticky Fingers and True Faith, another from Ennis, this time with Warren Pleece. By now IPC had sold 2000AD and other titles in its Fleetway Group to Daily Mirror publisher Robert Maxwell, causing problems for MacManus, as the new Fleetway refused to publish Skin, by Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy, and withdrew True Faith from circulation. MacManus ran a reprint of Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell’s The New Adventures of Hitler before quitting the title with issue 50.

His other major successes of the period were to orchestrate the Judge Dredd/Batman crossovers, and to create Judge Dredd: The Megazine, as it was originally known: “The idea for a spin-off title featuring Judge Dredd had been around since the early eighties. A full dummy first issue was rejected by management because the proposed cover price of 45p was considered too high. After that, the concept languished until creator royalty provision came into being and the right creative teams could be asked to come on board”. Steve edited the Judge Dredd Megazine for its first twelve issues, before handing over to David Bishop. Other titles in the 2000AD group included the short-lived Revolver and Dice Man.

By 1991 Fleetway had been taken over by Danish book and magazine publisher Egmont’s UK division, becoming known variously as Egmont Fleetway and London Editions. In 1995, MacManus became managing editor of Egmont’s pre-school group, which produced titles such as Sonic the Comic, the paper adventures of Sega’s famous hedgehog which MacManus edited himself, Ben-10, Toxic! and an array of Disney licenses. Ironically, in 2000, Egmont sold 2000AD to games developer Rebellion. Steve MacManus moved away from comics into magazines and editorial at around the same time.

And now he’s decided to stop, even if it’s just for a while. He admits he doesn’t know what the future will bring, but for all he’s contributed to British comics over the past 38 years, hats off to the Action Man, lets hear it for Steve MacManus.

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