Here’s my third Poptimist column for Pitchfork. It’s about pop, but mostly about 2000AD and the concept of thrill-power.

The notorious “giant scorpions” cover which I cite in the piece was drawn by Massimo Belardinelli, who I found out died last month. Belardinelli is one of the classic 2000 AD artists, despite the fact that, as at least one of his editors admitted, he couldn’t really draw humans. His people all have strange moon-faces and straight, stiff limbs: they look like they’ve stepped out of some weird cardboard theatre. In the first few years of the comic’s history, humans were pretty much all Belardinelli got to draw: I assume, like a lot of Europeans working on 2000, that he was cheap and reliable. But cheap and reliable doesn’t bring in the volume of work Belardinelli produced – he had something special. His people looked particularly wooden next to the outrageous flowing fleshy detail of his beasts and aliens: he was always big on tentacles and fronds and hair. So maybe he just found humans kind of boring!

One of the great things about 2000 AD was the way stories and ideas would emerge that so utterly suited its idiosyncratic artists: most boys’ comics of its era punished artistic eccentricity by crushing it into generic sport or war story formats. 2000 AD, when it found an artistic one-off, would eventually – almost accidentally – come up with something for him to do. That other great poet of the inhuman, Kevin O’Neill, found himself on Nemesis The Warlock, whose freakish angular world suited him perfectly. Ian Gibson’s outrageously sensual more-Euro-than-Euro lines were the perfect fit for Alan Moore’s romantic sci-fi experiment Halo Jones.  And Belardinelli was eventually rewarded with the riotous Ace Trucking Co.

Ace Trucking Co. started as a gimmick strip – CB Radio in space with its own crazy language for readers to learn. The fact that it survived for five years – far longer than most hams’ CB enthusiasm – is largely down to Belardinelli’s chaotic invention. With no humans at all to weigh his compositions down he was able to fill every panel with wild alien life, tendrils everywhere – Ace himself has a living scarf, companion GBH (Dead) has a thick physics-defying mane, and freakish limbs and eyestalks rampage over the pages. He was also the 2000 AD artist most in love with the romance of space – as the cover reproduced here shows.

Even when the Ace Trucking writers’ batteries started to run down, the art was as alive as ever. My main memory of the strip was from one of its later stories – a one-or-two page sequence wherein Ace plucked some giant anthropomorphic chickens, the art a page-bursting feather-filled madhouse. His later 2000 AD art was as inventive as ever, though he still had no love for the human figure – he was given Moonrunners to do, in some ways an ideal strip (it’s all about beat-up old spaceships), in other ways a catastrophically inappropriate one (it was a stiffly-written pseudo-soap opera). Other, longer-term readers will be able to fill me in on what, if anything, he went on to after that. But he’s one of the five or six founding fathers of thrill-power, and will be sadly missed.