Before From Hell, before Watchmen, before The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, there was The Ballad of Halo Jones. Co-created by writer Alan Moore and artist Ian Gibson, Halo Jones was a space opera about a young woman who is swept up in a vast galactic war. Appearing from 1984 to 1986 in the British weekly comic 2000AD, the Ballad won several Eagle Awards. Then, everything stopped. The strip never continued, although it has remained one of the most popular stories ever created for 2000AD.
A new collection of the strips will be appearing in May 2013, so it feels like a good moment to catch up with the man responsible for realising the world of 4949AD, Ian Gibson.
AS: Ian, thanks for speaking to Amazing Stories! The Ballad of Halo Jones was always intended to be a nine book series, with each book focusing on a decade in her life. Book 3 ended the run with Halo in her thirties, and the series has never returned, apparently over issues with creator rights. Back in 2003, you said you had tried to get in contact with Alan Moore to resurrect the strip in some format. Have you spoken to him since?
IG: I’ve tried a few times through various channels, like his daughter and David Lloyd, who did the V for Vendetta story with him (nice to see the Vendetta mask used by the ‘Occupy’ folks as a mask!). But I had no response from Alan at all! I guess he’s dropped the project..?
AS: On your website you have a commissioned image of Halo as a sort of slave, as well as some other pictures of her at different stages of her life. Do you still draw pictures of Halo? Have you sketched out any other ideas of how she might look in future stories?
IG: I still get commissions where fans want a pic of Halo. But very often it is from her early life and often with that wretched tin pooch Toby! In fact I have one of those to do right now!
But the reason for some of the images of her being from ‘future’ episodes is because I plotted out books 4 and 5 and wrote a few of the scripts, as I was hoping to get a chance to continue the saga. I’d had so many requests from fans that it seemed the right thing to do. But the publishers I have spoken to about it suggest that, even though it would probably be a best seller, it would be a legal nightmare over copyright. So no one wants to touch it – not even Rebellion! [Publishers of reprints of 2000AD stories].
I guess I’ll just continue with the commissions.
AS: Halo Jones remains one of 2000AD’s most enduring characters, but in the beginning, it wasn’t so popular. Was the series ever under threat of cancellation?
IG: I think both Alan and I have spoken about this in various interviews over the years. And boy has it been quite a few years!
After we finished book 1 we offered the editor an option for book 2 as we were both happy with the way the story was going. But the response we got was somewhat chilly. I think it was Steve MacManus doing the editorial job at the time – he suggested that they wouldn’t run book 2 unless it had more action and violence in it!
Personally I was disgusted by this response, as I figured that the inherent violence of the book 1 environment was pretty heavy in and of itself!
But Alan was up to the task and crafted the hostage situation into the first few episodes to give them the violent edge they required.
Sadly I wasn’t so ‘forgiving’ and as a result my artwork on book 2 wasn’t up to the standards I’d set in book 1. That’s possibly why book 3 was so much better. I was trying to make up to the fans for my ‘slippage’ in 2.
AS: Halo Jones feels very green: years ahead of its time. The Hoop, where Halo grows up, gets energy through tidal power, and the population’s main diet is a vegan one. Was this something that you felt strongly about at the time?
IG: This was a place where I ‘overruled’ Alan – or at least debated with him about the logic of the story. Alan originally had the Hoop being powered by Manhattan!
But I suggested that not only wouldn’t they want to do this expensive project, but they might not have the power to spare. So I suggested that it was an ideal system to have an enormous floating wave power generator moored off Manhattan to power the city and have the inhabitants running maintenance on it in payment for being ‘housed’. I sent him several sketches to show how the hoop functioned and how it might need to split open to allow for heavy waves to pass through, which he incorporated nicely into that first story, which was again me bossing him into writing a shopping trip adventure. He had wanted to get Halo off out into space immediately. But when he told me that her raison d’etre was one of ‘escape’ I suggested that it would make her more understandable if we knew what she was escaping from. Best way to know a world is to go shopping in it! So, if Wallmart has been fire-bombed and there’s a hostage situation at the local deli, the weekly shop becomes more like a military expedition. And he took it and ran from there! Kudos to Alan!
AS: 2012 saw a new Judge Dredd movie. 2000AD founder Pat Mills has mentioned in a recent interview on The Quietus that Rogue Trooper, another 2000AD character, has also been optioned as a movie. Have there ever been discussions of a Halo Jones movie or TV series?
IG: I have had people suggest that Halo would make a fine movie. But again the copyright rears its ugly head.
It was nice to see that some small dramatic society put on a version of Halo in a festival recently. So she does still seem popular.
AS: You’ve worked with Marvel, DC Comics and Dark Horse among others, but it sounds like the Annie Droid strip you did for the The Times newspaper in Britain is quite close to your heart. Tell us about it. Would you like to bring it back?
IG: Annie Droid was me being let loose on an unsuspecting Times readership! I was allowed to write exactly what I wanted and to dream up the silliest situations for life inside your computer… Yes! Yours too!
When I got the chance with Annie Droid, I had a lot of steam in the creative boiler to keep me going for a couple of years on the madness of the Millennium Bug.
It was printed in the Saturday Times, and the Millennium happened on a Saturday – what a deadline! So the readers woke up that morning to find Annie Droid had saved the world – must have made their toast and marmalade taste so much better! I did have plans for a continuation after the hiatus of the Millennium had passed. But The Times eventually realised that they didn’t have a clue as to what my story was about – so they cancelled it at a week’s notice! A short time to wrap up a saga – but I managed it.
AS: Finally, what are your plans for the future? Can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment?
IG: Plans..? Well. I’m at an age where a lot of folk are sitting in their slippers in front of the fire and dreaming of Mediterranean cruises or a week in Miami. But as I always insisted, in my naiveté, that I’d never want to retire – I’m soldiering on with the occasional commission and a file cabinet full of half written scripts, novels and assorted ideas and plan chests full of board to paint them on. May I live long enough to see half of them to fruition.
My pet project at the moment is my Lifeboat story. But as I have no specific publisher for it, I’m allowing it to rather dawdle along. Trying to get everything just right is allowing me to procrastinate far more than is healthy.
The old days of working for 2000AD when the script for something like Halo or Judge Dredd would arrive on Monday morning and I’d have five pages finished by Friday seem like a distant memory now. No time for procrastination then!
But I’ve been at this game since 1972. So that might allow me a little time to sit back and think.
AS: I’ve seen some of your Lifeboat work online. Can you give us a quick summary of the story?
IG: Basic premise: combine “What if Romeo and Juliet had had a child?” with a ‘space’ version of the American War of Independence, where asteroid mining colonies are trying to break free from the Empire.
Father becomes head of the Imperium; mother becomes Queen of the colonies – child raised by aliens. And it gets more complicated from there on in!
AS: Sounds terrific. Ian Gibson, thanks so much for talking to us.
IG: My pleasure!