INTERVIEW: Rob Williams, Chris Weston & Patrick Goddard on Judge Dredd: Unearthed
The team behind the latest Judge Dredd story in 2000 AD talk about Dredd's dark deeds, hyper-compressed storytelling, and when artists turn their hand to writing!
4 weeks ago
Beginning this week in Prog 2124, Judge Dredd writer Rob Williams returns - but, this time he’s not alone, as his frequent artistic collaborator Chris Weston grabs the co-writing reins!
The two-part Judge Dredd tale, 'Unearthed', begins this week as workers uncover a true blast from the past - with Patrick Goddard on art, Chris Blythe on colours, and Annie Parkhouse on letters.
Seriously, Williams, Weston, Goddard, and Dredd? You couldn’t really ask for more!
I suppose the first, and most important thing, to ask is just what is the two-parter about?
Rob Williams: Some of the sectors in Mega-City One haven't been built on since The Apocalypse War irradiated them. Some of them were where Sov forces invaded the city. Time has passed and now building work is taking place. But the crew in question unearth something unexpected. And Dredd's called in to deal with it.
Chris Weston: The title “Unearthed” has a more metaphorical meaning too. Dredd has witnessed and committed a lot of horrific acts during his lifetime. He won’t dwell on them because he hasn’t got the time or the inclination… but even the most repressed emotional issues have a horrible way of working their way back to the surface...
Unearthed is somewhat unusual in that it’s co-written by you both. I know you’ve already worked quite a bit on the whole saga of Judge Pin and more on Dredd together with Rob writing and Chris drawing, but how did this move to co-writing come about? And how did the project come about?
RW: The process for Chris and I a few times now has been us knocking ideas back and fore on the phone. So while you might get a story that has a 'written by me. drawn by Chris' credit, there's usually a decent amount of the ideas in there that may have come from our chats and Chris. With this one, Chris pretty much came up with the concept entirely. Rather than him giving it to me to script I suggested us co-writing - he does first draft on three pages of the six, I do first draft on the other three pages, then we swap them back and fore to both edit each other's work.
CW: I think the genesis of this story came from my time working on Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I was looking at a lot of old photographs of Russian Cosmonauts and their spacecraft for inspiration. Suddenly I had the image of a Russian spaceship being unearthed after being buried for decades. I thought it was a good idea for a story. Putting Dredd in the mix seemed a logical next step.
Chris, you’ll forgive me (I hope) if I’m wrong on this one, but is this your first co-writing credit? As far as I can see, you’ve scripted a few things yourself in 2000 AD and done The Twelve: Spearhead, but for those, you were scripting and providing art. So, how does the move to writing for another artist feel, how does writing Dredd feel, and is it something you’d be looking at doing more of in the future?
CW: This is my first co-writing credit, yes. But a lot of the stories I’ve drawn in the past came about from brain-storming sessions I’ve had with writers, dating right back to Indigo Prime: Killing Time with John Smith. I’m not sure how welcome my input is, but I’ve never received any complaints, and I have always let the writer have the last word.
This is the first time I’ve ever seen someone else draw a script I’ve written and I’ve been totally spoilt: Patrick has done an amazing job! It’s almost exactly the way I envisaged it in my mind, and where he’s differed from my vision it’s always been an improvement. Any delight I have at seeing the script so beautifully brought to life is slightly tempered by the knowledge that he’s done a much better job than I would have! The git!
And, yes, I have very big ambitions about writing more scripts. I always have, but in the past I have lacked the confidence to pursue my own story ideas. However, I have just past my fiftieth birthday and it’s dawned on me that I would have a lot of regrets if I reached the end of my life and hadn’t gone for it.
On a similar note, Patrick, you’re an established 2000 AD artist with a great track record, and I particularly enjoyed your last work on Dredd with Alex De Campi in Megazine 403. But was there any extra pressure here working from a script by Chris?
Patrick Goddard: Thanks, I enjoyed the festive one off! It had been a while since my last one. There’s always a little pressure when drawing Dredd, you kind of have to respect the legacy of the character that’s been around 40 years so you should always try and bring your A game. I did feel a little added pressure as Chris co-wrote it, I’m sure he’s visualised it in his own mind, but I just kind of went with my own instincts and not try to imitate (badly) Chris.
The script wasn’t over-descriptive about compositions and angles, they trusted whoever was going to draw it which is always refreshing. There’s a lot of great imagery in it to play with (I wish I had more pages), they obviously know their stuff, I think they’ll go far! I only got involved recently, I think the script had been around a bit and was attached to another artist but it fits in nicely right now and Matt asked me to step in which I gladly did!
You’ve been a major part of Pat Mills’ Savage, working in black and white and creating some really striking art for the strip. How is your process different for both Dredd and for colour strips to working in b&w?
PG: I tend to draw Savage a lot from an eye level view, nothing too dynamic and I follow Charlie Adlard’s way of not breaking the black borders to try and keep it with a more grounded feel. With Dredd I can loosen up and bit, although it can take some time to break out of some of my habits. The main difference is I can rely on a colourist for help, I don’t have to render so much as it’s not in b/w, but again that’s a hard habit to break!
The done-in-one Dredd stories are a staple and multi-parters allow writers and artists the room to let a tale breathe and develop. But two-parters? Well, they seem different. How does it work to drop in a two-parter? Is it not tempting to expand the story out to four? six?
RW: Dredd has a great history of high-concept done in ones. Six-pagers. That's extremely tight. In terms of three act structure you have setup - conflict - resolution. That's it. This two parter is really a one-off that we took 12 pages to do. It's not the type of tale that has the potential to lead to other avenues. Make your point, tell your story and then get out.
CW: Some stories just don’t merit four parts. The beauty of a two-parter means you can flesh out a simple idea without letting it overstay its welcome. But most importantly, it means you can sustain the suspense… “To be continued NEXT PROG!”. Who doesn’t love a cliffhanger?
One thing you’ve used the two-parter for in the past, particularly with the introduction of SJS Judge Pin in ‘The Fields’ two-parter in Prog 2035-2036, is use them to lead in to something bigger. Is that the case this time, or is this a definite done in two and out?
CW: It’s very hard to answer this without spoiling the story! But, no, there’s very little chance this story could be expanded upon. Dredd’s resolutions tend to have a morbid finality to them, and this tale is no exception.
And as for the future, what do you all have coming up to delight us? Either in 2000 AD or beyond? And seeing as I've got Rob and Chris here, when will the pair of you be returning to SJS Judge Pin?
RW: Chris and I are currently working on the big Judge Pin story we've really been working towards for a while. That's probably a six-parter, although it may be a five-parter. I'm halfway through writing it at the moment, so we'll see. I'm excited about that.
In terms of other work, I've recently finished the third Roy of the Rovers graphic novel for Rebellion. There's some TV work that's happening that I can't talk about. I'm sure there's other things I'm forgetting. And more Dredd. Definitely.
CW: Yeah, I’m just finishing the art for a Judge Dredd 12-page story I’ve written. It’s an irreverent flashback story featuring Dredd and Rico when they were cadets; it leans quite heavily into the humour. I hope people dig it. After that, Tharg’s returning me back to Rob’s cell, and I’ll recommence my duties as his much-abused pencil-monkey on another Pin story. It’s a REALLY dark tale. Oh, boy, you wait ’til you smell what The Rob's been cooking!
PG: I’ve got a fantasy strip to quickly draw written by Alec Worley and then a small thing for 2000 AD which I can’t say much about yet. Hopefully Pat might have some more Savage ready in the near future and I’ve been told to be ready to draw out more costumes (I’ve done a few already) for the new series of Doctor Who which is a lot of fun to do on the side.