INTERVIEW: Alex De Campi and Sam Beck on Rogue Trooper

The creative team behind the new Rogue Trooper story in the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special discuss their take on the Genetic Infantryman

2 weeks ago

Born in the Souther gene labs, and thrown into battle as a G.I., Genetic Infantryman, Rogue Trooper has long been a fan favourite character for readers of 2000 AD. Now, along with Canadian artist Sam Beck, and after bringing chaos and devastation to the movieworld of Dredd in The Dead World over in the Megazine, Alex De Campi brings her unique vision to one of 2000 AD's greatest sons.

What can we expect from this latest adventure of Rogue Trooper in the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special? Richard Bruton asks the questions...

The last time we saw Rogue Trooper in the pages of 2000 AD was Prog 2050 where Paul Robinson and Leonardo Manco brought him back once more, along with the idea of his hunt for the Traitor General. Is this latest Rogue tale a continuation of that one-off, or something all of its own?

ADC: It's another one-off, set during the original hunt for the Traitor General. In terms of approach, my story is mainly told from the perspective of the troops Rogue and his pals meet, with Rogue as this sort of avatar of hope/victory for them, but you know, the Army always fucks you in the end.

What approach did you take when coming to Rogue?

ADC: Rogue is a perfect character, in the way that Judge Dredd is. They can exist forever, and there's always something new to do with them, because they're vehicles to tell specific kinds of stories. For Judge Dredd, it's crime/urban stories. For Rogue, it's war stories. I don't think you need to try to mess with the character -- I mean, sure, you need to understand them, and why they are great tragic heroes, but forcing them to have arcs or trying to be the writer who leaves a big tally mark on their history by changing their status quo? I just don't think it's necessary. I love war stories. Grew up on 'em. Read a ton since. And the chance to write a Hurtgen Forest (WWII)/Michelin Plantation (Vietnam) story with Rogue? Oh hell yeah.

Did you look back to the classic tales and spin out a tale of the lone cowboy?

ADC: I mainlined like 800 pages of classic Rogue before writing this eight-pager. Overkill? Possibly. Regrets? Zero.

Are we going to be seeing a return of all the old faves, including Rogue's companions; Helm, Bagman, and Gunnar?

ADC: It's not a Rogue story without Helm, Bagman and Gunnar. Yes, they all play important roles in this story.

Did you pitch for Rogue, or was it something editorial asked if you would like to take on?

ADC: I asked for Rogue, specifically. Rogue has always been one of my favourites of all my years reading 2000 AD. And since by the time the summer special comes out, I'll have had three Dredd stories in the Megazine, I felt like pitching Dredd would have been taking a chance away from someone else. Hell, I'm only the second woman to write Dredd after Emma Beeby, and this way, we can let in a third to Dredd Club. It was even more tactical than that, to be honest. I think there are a lot of casual fans or keyboard clowns worried we birds are somehow going to soften up the joint (note: these people clearly aren't acquainted the amount of casual hyper-violence in my work). And I don't know what everyone else is doing for the Sci-Fi Special, we haven't compared notes or anything. So I just wanted to write an old-school, violent noir of a war story with Rogue -- first, because I love stories like that, seriously, this is my wheelhouse -- and second, because I wanted to stick two fingers up to all the whiners with the rejected future shock pitches who are mad that *girls* are getting a free pass at their faves. I mean, like I haven't been writing comics professionally for 10 years or anything.

Alex, seeing as your last 2000 AD work, the incredible Dredd movieverse tale Dead World, gave us a very definitive end to that tale, can you reassure us that you're not planning on doing something similarly final with Rogue Trooper?

ADC: Oh no! Fret not. I'm leaving Rogue open and available for more writers to carry on with (also because I want to write more Rogue stories!). Again, I don't have to be That Writer, who leaves a permanent mark on Rogue. If I do, I want it to be because of a great story, not because of a cheap trick like offing him.

As for Dead World, we were asked to have a definitive ending by Tharg. It was planned as the last movieverse story and Tharg wanted it to go out with a bang. Initial suggestions were even more permanent, as it were, but I chose that specific ending because honestly it's the worst thing that can happen to Dredd. We have a moment where Judge Fear puts Dredd in what he THINKS is Dredd's worst nightmare, but it isn't really. The way we end the book is.

Your recent Image series, Twisted Romance, was a wonderful example of how the writer can adjust style and tone for the artist involved. As I understand it, you didn't know that Sam was your Rogue Trooper artist when writing. How does this affect your creative process, if at all?

ADC: Some comics you work in strong collaboration with the artist; some you just script and hope. It works out either way, to be honest. Because Rogue is such a known quantity with such a rich visual history, I was more writing to Rogue than I was writing to Sam's art style, just as Sam will no doubt be drawing to the established world of Rogue than carving out something new. I think I do good scripts either way. I've written entire original graphic novels without an artist attached. Both ways of working are fun. But think of it this way: whereas if Sam and I were doing a collab on a new story, I would have spent a shit-ton of time learning Sam's style, what she's strong at, what she tends to avoid, how many panels per page she is comfortable with, et cetera, with this story I spent my research time immersing myself in Gerry Finley-Day and Alan Moore classic Rogue, and weeping over the glory of the line art. Chris Weston's a friend, and someday I'm going to drag him into doing a short Rogue run with me... once he's done his current work with Rob.

Sam, as a Canadian artist, what experience of 2000 AD have you had?

Sam Beck: Not a whole lot beyond Judge Dredd, which is a shame, because after being approached to do the art for the Rogue Trooper story I did some reading and there are a lot of really fun stories. I hope as a Canadian artist I can help introduce 2000 AD’s character to readers in North America.

Did you have any awareness of Rogue Trooper and his rich artistic history before coming onboard for this tale?

SB: I didn’t, but thankfully Rogue Trooper's history meant there was a lot of really good source material to read and research before beginning to draw anything. Rogue Trooper was a really unique challenge for me, and I like a challenge. So I’ve done my research, and I hope that my art brings something new and exciting to the table.

The Sci-Fi Special this year has received an awful lot of attention, good and bad, for featuring an all-female assembly of creative talent. What are your opinions on this as an all-women special?

ADC: Normally I'm against the ghettoization of women in comics. It's not healthy to present us as something separate and new, when to be honest we've been there since the very beginning (Ramona Fradon gets held up as one of the first, but really she was a second generation -- a lot of the 1930s strips were created / drawn by women). I refuse to participate in Women in Comics panels, because after the immortal words of Neko Case, I'm not a woman in comics, I'm a writer in comics, don't Peggy Olsen me, MFers.

But! But, saying that, I really feel Tharg is making a genuine effort to jumpstart a lot more female involvement in 2000 AD. And it's not like they're just picking random chicks off the street -- we're all longstanding professionals with really stellar track records. And 2000 AD has always been open to women. Tharg's been at me for a good decade to get my shit together and pitch. But here's the funny thing: if you're a member of an under-represented group of any kind, and you don't see people who are like you working at a company, you sorta don't prioritise pitching that company. So a lack of diversity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy unless the company jumpstarts a serious commitment to it, like 2000 AD is doing now.

The Sci-Fi Special is going to do a lot of cool things. As noted, I was already three Dredd stories in when asked to be a part of the Special so I'm not really a new entry into the hit parade. But a lot of others are. The Special is going to bring a lot of other women in to what will hopefully be a longstanding relationship with 2000 AD. That will encourage even more female creators in future, because they can look at the book and say, oh, we're welcome here. And it'll encourage female readers, too, to start or renew their relationship with the Prog or the Meg. And we can do all this without softening things up. We don't want that. That's not anybody's ambition. We wanna write mushy shit, we can do that just fine on our own, we don't need to do it with Dredd.

And comics works via small circles of people who know and trust each other. So you get some new blood in, they start reaching out to their friends or saying 'Hey Tharg, can so-and-so draw this?" or "This writer is amazing, you should look at them", and soon enough, you get a lot of really exciting voices and visions adding to the book. Not that the existing talent isn't great -- because holy shit, it really is, I mean how can anyone doubt, with that Williams/Weston Judge Dredd: Fit For Purpose running in the Prog -- but everything needs to keep evolving to best survive.

And this is ultimately what the Summer Special is: a declaration of strength.

SB: The short answer is it’s good, and I’m happy for the opportunity. The long answer is, you should introduce diversity and new-talent at anytime without having to create a special publication for it. But the all-female special is a big statement and it’s going to garner attention, which is never a bad thing.

The 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special is out in the UK on 20 June and out in North America in July. Pre-order a copy now from the 2000 AD webshop...