Every week, 2000 AD brings you the galaxy’s greatest artwork and 2000 AD Covers Uncovered takes you behind-the-scenes with the headline artists responsible for our top cover art – join bloggers Richard Bruton and Pete Wells as they uncover the greatest covers from 2000 AD!

This week we have the welcome return of Phil Winslade to the cover of Judge Dredd Megazine Issue 418, with magnificent Marshal Metta Lawson from Lawless adorning the cover…

The current series of Lawless, Boom Town, is running right now in the Meg, with Lawson having to deal with Badrock’s new status as a free town, a group of annoying overseeing SJS Judges, the return of the even more annoying Brotherly, a Zhind trading party and an awful lot more. For a woman who basically just wanted a quiet life out in the middle of nowhere, Lawson sure attracts trouble!

Megazine 318 is out now in print and digital – just look for Phil Winslade’s beautiful wrap-round cover. Now, over to Phil to take us through the making of the thing, which started, as these things often do, with TMO’s Earthly representative, Matt Smith, getting in touch…

‘Would you be up for doing another Lawless cover? I was thinking of one for part 4, with a grim-looking Lawson trekking through the Badlands. Best, M.’

So I got this email from Matt in December and sort of asked if I could postpone it until the new year as I was halfway through an episode of Lawless and had Christmas coming up and all that sort of thing but my mind would not let me postpone and started working on it overnight. Next morning, I just jotted down some ideas.

Cover Rough part 1 – squiggles aplenty!

Which I fiddled around with on the iPad quickly...

Cover Rough 2 – It’s Metta!

…and refined it a bit…

Cover Rough 3 – Marshal, you’re not gonna do much with that big stick.

…but wasn’t too convinced.

I wanted to produce something more akin to a horror cover as the whole tone of the story has a sort of creeping menace ( cue twanging banjos). At this point, I realised I wanted to set this at night too, I felt that I’d moved from ‘grimly trekking’ to a sort of nervous tension that was dramatic but not in an action but more psychological way. Lawson is surrounded by the unknown, ready to make her last stand- the tension BEFORE the action. I didn’t exactly think this through in this kind of logical way really, it was just a natural flow that started here and moved to here.

I needed to up the drama.

I remembered Ron Embleton’s glorious paintings for the end credits of Captain Scarlet – the way they started with his face straining in anticipation, glaring at the predicament which was revealed by the pull-out. The moment before his inevitable death. I wanted to inject that sort of drama.

Cover Rough 4 – Consider the drama upped!

So I changed the angle so we were looking up at her, she’s braced against the rock, gun primed, ready to spin round and start blasting, her face a mask of tense determination, wide-eyed and desperate. The rocks echoing the diagonal spikes on that spiky wall in the cap scarlet painting, shadowy, menacing figures stalking between them, Lawson braced against the flow of the ragged slabs.

Cover Rough 5 – The Marshal does her best Captain Scarlet impression!
The Ron Embleton Captain Scarlet painting that Phil’s referring to – all that diagonal spikiness!

I refined it a little but I knew that lighting would be a factor if I was going to sell this to Matt. So I crudely blocked it in using halo or rim-lighting- a blue light and a stronger but more angle light that silhouettes the figure and defines details, heightening that gothic horror feel.

Cover Rough 6 – It’s beginning to look a lot like a cover!
Cover Rough 7 – Metta feeling some kind of blue

So I ended up with this…

But then I thought I would blow it up a bit and crop Lawson as an option- just playing really – as I have a predilection for putting the whole figure into a picture which isn’t always the right way to go and it felt a bit more dramatic to focus on Lawson and importantly her face.

I sent both options to Matt, he rightly chose the cropped version. This was all done in a day or so- then I got on with what I was working on and Christmas.

Before Painting, I blew the approved sketch up and put it on a lightbox and really refined the image in pencil on a board (usually I’d do a finished drawing in ink but I was really concerned with the lighting especially on Lawson’s face so went for a more tonal medium to paint over.

And just so you can see what Phil’s talking about – here’s a tight crop of Lawson’s face…

I probably overworked her face but I was going to paint over it anyway. Then I got out the acrylics, girded my loins and took a deep breath.

One of the things, I’ve been trying to do with the Lawless covers is get that sort of pulp ’60s paperback western feel, to get that energy and atmosphere, that sense of light. I’m not sure how successful I’ve been but that is my approach.

I don’t find painting easy. I really enjoy it (well, mostly) and every time I do it, I learn so much, but I find it quite nerve-racking.

I go in with all these great intentions and ideas but, at some point, it all falls apart and I’m left desperately trying to rescue this awful mess and create something at least presentable. I’ve come to expect it and actually sometimes it takes you places you wouldn’t necessarily have wanted to go but get a sense of gratification for going there and getting something unexpected.

It ’s always unpredictable and frustrating, rewarding and humbling- sometimes traumatic, my memory tends to blank out most of the experience.

I kept the palette fairly limited as I wanted the rim lighting to ‘pop’ and spent a lot of time trying to get Lawson’s face how I wanted it. I was very conscious that night scenes print quite dark and can print muddy too so tried to keep the contrasts and the rim light crisp.

After painting it in sunlight, I scanned it and watched the colour values change in unexpected directions and so had to do some editing in photoshop by tweaking the colour levels. I sent it off to Matt, who said he was happy with it.

As is always the way with these things, after spending so much time with it in the painting and the intensity of all the good and bad decisions I made, I can’t really look at what I do with any objectivity for a good long time afterwards. It tends to get better with a little distance. I can see nothing but the faults so hope that I got some of what I was trying to do across to some of the readers.

I think we can all agree – what faults? Nope, we see no faults with that one, none at all!

Out huge thanks to Phil Winslade for that exhaustive look at how the cover was put together – you can find the cover adorning the front (and back) of Judge Dredd Megazine Issue 418, which is out now from all good newsagents and comic book stores, as well as through the 2000 AD webshop and apps!