INTERVIEW: paying tribute to Carlos Ezquerra in the Sci-Fi Special

Michael Carroll, Dave Kendall, and Patrick Goddard discuss their work for the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special, commemorating the legacy of the mighty Carlos Ezquerra

3 months ago

The 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special pays tribute to a true comics legend, Carlos Ezquerra, and is on sale now!

The special features some of his most popular characters, leading off with a Judge Dredd tale by Alan Grant and Robin Smith, where Dredd tackles some perps in a very unique location in "Night at the Museum". Guy Adams and Dave Kendall reveal an untold story of Romanian vampire soldiers the Fiends of the Eastern Front in "Strange Meeting"; and Viking bounty-hunter Wulf Sternhammer comes to terms with life in the future in "Valhalla" by Michael Carroll and Patrick Goddard.

Plus, there’s an exclusive first look at the two completed chapters of the project that John Wagner and Ezquerra were working on when he died: the new character, android cop Spector, programmed to root out corruption at the highest level. All this under a suitably special Mick McMahon cover.

The legacy of Carlos Ezquerra lives on through his incredible body of work and it's that legacy that 2000 AD celebrates with the Sci-Fi Special. We’ve interviewed a few of those involved, Michael Carroll, Dave Kendall, and Patrick Goddard to find out their thoughts on 2000 AD’s greatest.

As Michael Carroll says, “Carlos Ezquerra was our Jack Kirby, our Will Eisner, our Moebius – except that I’d rank him above all of them”. So say we all.

What are you doing for this years' Sci-Fi Special?

Michael Carroll: I’ve written “Valhalla,” a six-page strip that stars Wulf Sternhammer, Johnny Alpha’s Viking partner from Strontium Dog. Wulf has always been one of my favourite characters: he brought real humanity and warmth to Johnny Alpha’s universe. Johnny was always very detached, ruthless, almost humourless. For him, bounty-hunting was a job that he didn’t enjoy, but he felt it was doing some good, that he had control over at least one aspect of his life. By contrast, Wulf always found a way to embrace life no matter what horrors the galaxy threw at him. He was ferocious and loyal and kind and exuberant, and definitely not one for brooding over things he couldn’t control – I always loved that about him!

Patrick Goddard: I'm drawing a short fun strip about Wulf Sternhammer written by the wonderful Michael Carroll, Wulf is taking a short trip back to Earth to reminisce his good old days, and get a little drunk.

Dave Kendall: I drew the Guy Adam's scripted Fiends of the Eastern Front one-off for the special.

How did it feel to be working on the Sci-Fi Special, on one of Carlos' creations, knowing that 2000 AD were touting this as a tribute to the man? Pressure much?

MC: There’s always pressure writing about a character that so many people know and love. You don’t want to screw it up and betray the memory of the character, or the creator, but you have to set that fear aside and get on with the job. Wulf himself wouldn’t have let something like that slow him down, so why should I? I think that if you know a character well then you can drop him or her into any situation and instinctively know how they’ll react.

As I was writing the script I visualised it as I think Carlos might have drawn it: dynamic angles, strong foreshortening, deep shadows and very expressive poses and faces. I didn’t know at the time that Patrick Goddard – one of my favourite artists – would be drawing it, but if I had, I don’t think that would have changed anything! Patrick’s work on the strip is absolutely stunning. He’s managed to perfectly capture Wulf’s essence without mimicking Carlos’s style and that is no easy task.

PG: As Carlos is the definitive Strontium Dog artist, there was no point in trying to imitate or compare my work with his, I just tried to block the pressure out of my mind and treat it the same as any other job, I would've twisted myself up in knots if I didn't!

DK: Well, I knew it was for a special but no idea it was a tribute to Carlos when I was doing it. To be honest the pressure would have been the same in terms that any work has pressure. I always try to keep a saying that my illustration teacher told me. 'You're only as good as your last piece of work.' Maybe if I knew it was for a Carlos special I would have maybe tried too hard. That in itself can be a death sentence for creative work. So the short answer is I was blissfully unaware of any context as I worked on it!

The important part was that it was Fiends which was one of my all time favourite 2000 AD stories. Not in small part due to Carlos's artwork on the original story. So it automatically carried a lot of weight for me irrespective of what it was going to be used for.

Carlos... talk about what he means to you... as a writer/artist, as a reader...

MC: Carlos was the first artist in British comics whose work I was able to instantly recognise, even before he adopted his distinctive gutterless border style and broken character outlines. There’s a solidity and gravity to his early work that we rarely saw back then. Carlos’s characters and locations just felt more real than most.

I always liked that his characters’ faces weren’t all smooth-skinned, handsome and chisel-jawed: they were lived-in faces, weather-beaten, weary, scarred by experience as much as by battle. Even in Carlos’ earliest renditions of Johnny Alpha – long before the character’s back-story was written – you know that he’s carrying a lot of emotional baggage. He’s seen and experienced things that would have killed weaker men. Likewise with Major Eazy, the cast of Rat Pack, and even Dredd, which is particularly impressive because you can’t even see the top half of Dredd’s face!

DK: He was always there wasn't he? I think that sense of comfort and familiarity with his work almost obscures his incredible skill in the medium. He always served the story and his style never became the dominant factor in the strip. His work was always dynamic and exciting yet it also seems humble and never seemed to scream look at me. Does that make sense? I'm not diminishing his work more that he was perfectly in tune with the comic medium to such a seamless degree.

PG: I think most people associate Carlos with 2000 AD more than any other artist, I've no idea how many pages he must've drawn but it must be in the thousands! But I didn't discover him in 2000 AD; I first saw his work in Battle Action Force drawing The Rat Pack as it was one of the first comics I used to get. I wasn't aware of his 2000 AD work until much later. One of the perks of working on the Judge Dredd Mega collection was that I could discover a lot of his work for the first time as an adult; it holds up so well and has been a real joy to devour. He had that talent that whatever strip he was drawing, be it WW2 or the far future, the architecture, the fashion, the technology, it all worked in that 'Ezquerra' universe. I've been fortunate enough to see some of his work up close (and watch him sketch), especially some of his classic pages, the size of some of the pages were intimidating! The sheer range of his work is inspiring too, I don't think there are many genres that he didn't do!

What was it about Carlos' work that was so special for you?

MC: As an illustration of just how good he was: back in 1977 Carlos provided covers for almost every issue of Marvel UK’s Fury, an anthology of war-story reprints designed to rival Warlord or Battle. The comic didn’t hit the mark and the contents felt very dated (“Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders,” anyone?): it only lasted twenty-five issues, but Carlos’s covers were so good I kept buying it.

Everything he did for 2000 AD was gold – I particularly loved his work on Fiends of the Eastern Front, Durham Red, and of course those incredible adaptations of three of Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat novels – and I feel very honoured that Carlos was chosen to draw the final part of my Every Empire Falls storyline: to have written a Dredd tale that was illustrated by the master is undoubtedly one of the milestones of my career.

DK: Carlos's art was just a constant part of my childhood. 2000 AD as a whole was like a diary for my early years. I still remember events in my life along with which story was running in 2000 AD at the time. It's hard to be too specific about Carlos's work. He was great at every aspect of the craft. Therefore you couldn't say I liked how he did this or that. He just did everything well. He had quality and quantity. A few stories stood out for me. Fiends of the Eastern Front in particular. I think that was a departure for 2000 AD in terms of it being a historical horror story as opposed to sci-fi. Carlos's use of atmosphere in the story was incredible. Hi inks swirled and congealed much more on Fiends than with Dredd or Strontium Dog for example. I guess being a huge horror fan that stood out for me.

Is there a particular strip, a moment, a memory that stands out for you when it comes to Carlos and his work?

DK: That's easy. Although Fiends stood out for me, it was Strontium Dog in Hell that really made me go WOW! I must have been about eight or nine at the time and that entire strip was one I waited impatiently for every week. The Sun and Moon characters were brilliantly sinister. I can remember tracing the double page spread of the Four Horseman. Their designs blew me away.

PG: I remember seeing him so excited that he drew The Rat Pack for one of the Sniper elite covers, he was showing everyone on his phone, he was like a proud parent! I think he was hoping for more to come. That's what struck me most, he was as enthusiastic as any new artist, he didn't seem jaded of his decades in the industry, you could tell his love of comics and the characters was still there. I really hope I continue to have that kind passion, he was truly inspiring.

MC: The cover of Battle Picture Weekly #66 (June 5th, 1976) completely blew me away. I already loved Carlos’s work, but that cover is an absolute masterpiece. I’d never seen anything so striking. The decision to render Major Eazy in only black and white while the rest of it is in colour – genius! I know he’d done that a few times before, and it was a great trick to elevate a cover back in the days of murky colours on newsprint paper, but this time it really worked! Even now, forty-three years on, it’s a breathtaking image. 

Separately, John Wagner and Carlos are the best in the business, but when working together they produced pure magic, elevating comics to a level that is rarely seen elsewhere. I feel very lucky to have worked with Carlos, and to have got to know him over the last couple of years. He was charming and generous and modest and funny, and I don’t think he really ever grasped how much of an impact he’d made on his fans. The comics world suffered a great loss when he died. Carlos Ezquerra was our Jack Kirby, our Will Eisner, our Moebius – except that I’d rank him above all of them.