The 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special  is a 100-page celebration of the last two decades since games developer Rebellion acquired the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic.

There’s four brand-new tales alongside some classic archive cuts, all behind that stunning cover from Jock. The new tales for the Special feature Al Ewing and Jake Lynch on Judge DreddJohn Reppion and Clint Langley on Storm Warning, and Ian Edginton and Steve Yeowell on The Red Seas. And, as you’ll see, each new tale has its own very special guest to really max out the Thrill Power!

Dan Abnett and Richard Elson have brought together to absolute animals – Gene the Hackman from Kingdom and everyone’s favourite terror of the frozen wastes… Shako!

The 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special is available from all good newsagents and comic book stores now!

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The Summer Special features the return of one Gene the Hackman in a new, one-off Kingdom tale.

And once more, Gene’s old enemies, Them, rear their ugly, insectoid heads. But this time Gene’s not alone in the fight… far from it!

Where did the idea for Kingdom vs Shako come from?

Dan Abnett: Matt asked me to do it. As soon as he said it, I thought it was brilliant. Obviously the intention is to celebrate 2000 AD old and new by combining characters old and new, and this is a great fit. 

It’s one of those wonderfully stand-alone tales, not dependant on continuity or fitting in with the rest of Kingdom. Is that a freeing thing?

DA: Yes, it is freeing, and I wanted to keep it simple. At the same time, though it can be ignored in the continuity of either character, Rich and I worked quite hard to make sure it fitted both if readers wanted it to. There’s some creative embroidery in the art and the set up that indirectly but plainly explains how the two strips are happening to meet, deftly accounting for the differences in timescale, setting etc. 

Richard Elson: It did feel kind of freeing actually. It was interesting to go back to drawing the original Gene design, because he’s had a few different looks since then. Whenever I come back to drawing him it’s more a matter of reacquainting myself with what this guy is all about. It takes a while, but once I get my head around that it seems to come out a lot easier.

Shako is a weird one, because there’s very little visible anatomy to a polar bear. Unlike great white sharks, polar bears are not obviously a vision of terror, they’re just these big cute looking balls of fluff. If you look at actual photos of polar bears fighting, they still look pretty cute and friendly – until the blood starts flying. You can see the different artists struggling with this to varying degrees on the original Shako run. Obviously, we wanted our Shako to look like he would be intimidating, even to a badass like Gene, so I had to tweak the anatomy (especially of the skull) a bit. Also, they have paws, so they can’t grab things, meaning you are limited to what you can do when you show them in action. That’s why we have Shako tending to crush or swipe things with his paws/claws in the action section.

It’s very dialogue light, something like 38 words, a couple of sound effects are all we get. But it’s carried through both Richard’s incredible storytelling and through the thoughts of both Gene and Shako.

DA: Yes, Rich carries it. As ever. It had to look right. When Matt first asked me to write it, the very first thing that occurred to me – the one thing I thought Kingdom and Shako had in common more than anything else – was narrative. Neither Gene nor Shako are the most talkative characters, but each strip had a very distinctive narrative: Kingdom’s ‘folklore patois narrator’ and Shako’s old school third-person narrator.

That, to me, is the real cross-over here. Both narrators meet and share the story. In a way, it’s the storytelling styles of the strips that cross over. I hoped that way we’d retain the flavour of both, rather than one ending up as a ‘guest’ in the other’s strip. 

Of course, once you’ve got these two characters in mind for a strip, the only way you’d think you could go with it is all-out action. But you’ve done something better here. The action is just four pages of the ten and there’s actually more time spent dealing with first the tension of setting up the piece and having these two alphas meet and then, after the four pages of absolutely brutal violence, another set of pages dealing with the comedown and the re-evaluation of each other between Gene and Shako.

DA: Indeed. It’s less about the fight and more about the observation of animal behaviour. It should David Attenborough as a third narrator voice. 

As such, it’s a story that gives you much more than it really should, as on paper it was simply down as a fight between two apex predators.

DA: Thank you. It’s tricky, because Shako is an animal, acting on instinct. He isn’t a ‘character’ per se, and I didn’t want to anthropomorphise him. I like the fact that we achieve a grudging, ‘law of the wild’ respect. They understand, each in their own ways, what each other is. 

RE: It’s no secret that I love drawing action (especially fight scenes), but I really enjoy the atmosphere stuff too. We had to set up the remoteness/isolation and the cold of the environment in the first few panels. I did toy with the idea of introducing heavy snowfall to add to the atmosphere, but it all got a little too busy, so I left it out.

Richard, with something like this, with limited dialogue, there’s even more reliance on the artist to set the pace of the story. 

How did you go about breaking down the initial idea of the strip on the page to get those beats of the story just right?  

RE: Whenever I get a script from Dan, I know I’m going to enjoy drawing it. He has an uncanny ability to write in a way that is both tailored towards, and inspiring for, whoever he collaborates with. Dan’s scripts are a perfect fit for me; and every time I get to talk to another artist who works with him regularly, they seem to feel the same.

The pace of the story felt like it was all there in the script, I just had fun with it. One of the main things that I had to think about with this meet-up wasn’t really related to the pacing at all. When I draw Gene, I tend to imagine him to be the size of a polar bear. I re-read the original Shako run and he’s just a large polar bear in those, so the Shako of those stories would look relatively unimpressive next to a figure of Gene’s stature. Dan described Shako as a huge form so I was aware that I had to make him much bigger than any normal polar bear if he was to look intimidating. I tried to concentrate on getting a feel for the immense, shambling weight of him as that was really coming through in Dan’s descriptions of Shako.

I have to say that you’ve done an excellent job here, the pacing is just excellent with all that alpha male interaction, all that tension between the two of them captured in those tight page-width panels at the beginning. And then, when they do let loose, you open up the pages much more with bigger panels, up until the key page of the fight, where panels are dispensed with altogether and you let the action create its own flow for the reader’s eye.

Can you talk us through some of the decisions in choosing the page and panel layouts for the story?

RE: Dan and I seem to use a lot of wide/cinematic panels in our strips and I really like that look. When I’m breaking down a script into layouts, I get a bit uncomfortable if I start getting square panels turning up too often. It’s just an aesthetic preference of mine; it just seems to suit us. As the action heats up, the horizontal and vertical integrity of the panels breaks down, or, as in this instance, collapses entirely. Again, this isn’t so much decided as a way to enhance the story, it’s just the way I feel it when I’m going through the script. I get pretty excited about this stuff sometimes.

It definitely strikes me as a strip that was an incredible amount of fun to work on – am I right?

DA: I was for me. I hope Rich had fun too 🙂

RE: Yes! It’s always fun working on Dan’s scripts. Drawing Gene is one of my favourite things to do. I didn’t think I’d find anything I would enjoy working on as much as Kingdom, but Dan managed to come up with the idea for Feral & Foe and it was just as much, if not more, fun. 

Any thoughts on either bringing Shako back for more adventures? 

DA: Now there’s an idea…

RE: Well, I didn’t know it before we did this one, but I really like drawing polar bears. Having said that, I do think Shako is a particularly difficult character to make work in an ongoing story without falling into the trap of (as Dan says) anthropomorphising him; which would be a mistake, in my opinion.

And what will we be seeing from both of you in the pages of the Prog? More Kingdom?

DA: Eventually. Kingdom’s not done, and we only produce more ‘seasons’ of it when Rich is free to work on it. It’s not a strip that switches artist. We’ve just done the first series of a new strip, Feral & Foe, which is a fantasy story, and we created that simply for a change of pace – to do something else and keep ourselves fresh while we carefully consider where to take Kingdom next.

It’s nice – and healthy – to go off and do something different for a change. I’m delighted that Feral & Foe was so well received, so we may have some more of that too. Kingdom, however, will return… when we’ve got the next big story ready to tell.

RE: Rich: As long as people want to read it, and Dan wants to write it, I will always be keen to do more Kingdom. Dan and I are working on something as we speak. I’ll wait for Tharg to reveal what it is.

Thanks so much to Dan and Richard for talking to us. You can find their tale of two terrible warriors in this years’ 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special – available from all good newsagents and comic book stores, or the 2000 AD web shop.