More from the 2000 AD Sci-FI Special, as we turn to look at the legendary skysurfer, Marlon Shakespeare… better known as Chopper!

Chopper’s adventure is just part of the big storyline taking place through the Sci-Fi Special, masterminded by Tharg, Mike Carroll, and Maura McHugh, and featuring Judge Dredd, Judge Anderson, Cursed Earth Koburn, Chopper, Armitage, Devlin Waugh, and Judge Inaba!

Richard Bruton sat down with David Baillie and Tom Foster, the creative team behind the return of Marlon Shakespeare to 2000 AD as Chopper soars again!

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(Cover by Neil Roberts)

David, hello – how’s things going for you? Keeping well and safe? All vaxed up?

DAVID BAILLIE: Double jabbed and fully immortal now, thanks for asking!

You’re giving us more of Dreddworld’s greatest skysurfer as Chopper returns in Dreamgazer for this year’s Sci-Fi Special. But this time, it’s not a simple standalone strip, but one that’s a part of the bigger storyline, taking in all parts of Dreddworld, including Oz!

DB: It was actually really nice to write a six-pager that served a purpose outside of its own page count. Sometimes the trickiest part of writing shorter stories is getting the scope just right. Crafting a story that works on its own (hopefully) that also feeds into a larger narrative was a new experience, and unexpectedly freeing.

As I think has been already mentioned on social media, and other places where criminals and misfits gather, the Sci-Fi Special was fleshed out in 2000 AD‘s first writers room. In these Covid times that meant a very pleasant, albeit occasionally buffering, Zoom call, rather than us all being flown to Mike’s Castle or Maura’s mansion over in Ireland. Which is, it goes without saying, a shame.

A magnificent bit of Tom Foster artwork from Chopper: Dreamgazer
And the full process of breakdowns, pencils, and inks for that wonderful first panel… including a bit of a beard trim!

Did Tharg crack the whip and let you know what you could and couldn’t put in this one to fit in with the overall storyline? Or did he leave that down to his minions, the Carroll and McHugh Droids?

DB: Actually, there were very few constraints, outside of each story having to perform various over-arching narrative functions.

As a big Only Connect fan, I have a tendency to put Victoria Coren Mitchell in all of my stories. Unfortunately, she’s never yet made the final cut – and in this case, Tharg specifically asked me to leave her out this time, just to skip that time-consuming editorial step. Apart from that, I think the outline itself for the uber-story was a couple of paragraphs and some suggested reading. Maura and Mike were kind enough to give all the underlying writers lots of leeway to do their thing, and I think the joy of that freedom shows in the final product.

The devil, and the fun, is in the details.

Okay then David, putting aside the obsessional nature of the whole Victoria Coren Mitchell thing (I’m sure it’s only a rumour that Tharg had to tell you not to do it because of some sort of restraining order). But this short Chopper tale marks your return to Chopper after 2018’s Wandering Spirit with Brendan McCarthy. Was it good to return to the world of Chopper here?

DB: Chopper is genuinely my favourite Dreddworld character – he’s like a freaky older brother whose adventures I’ve grown up reading. And like most real people he’s had numerous varied phases in his life. Getting the chance to join him for not one but two of those chapters has been an absolute delight.

Without spoilering the whole thing, can you give us just a little idea of what to expect, both from the Sci-Fi Special and Dreamgazer?

DB: Get ready to meet a new Big Bad for the world of the Judges, prepare yourself for a Dredd/Anderson scene the likes of which you’ve never seen before, and gird yourself for a revelation about what happened to Chopper at the end of Wandering Spirit, a development that will answer some questions, and raise yet more!

Where are we with Chopper now? How long after the events of Wandering Spirit is Dreamgazer?

DB: I’ve been trying to keep as close as possible to the Dreddworld timeline, which advances at the same rate as our own – so this takes place roughly three years after the conclusion of Wandering Spirit. After a ‘lost year’ Chop’s spent the last couple of summers living in a unique location, being a bother to the local judiciary.

It also explores, just briefly, a new Chopper, changed after his experiences in the Dreamtime. He talks of the Dreamtime flowing through him, making the physical world effortless to navigate, and shows us his board literally runs off Dreamtime energy. Now that definitely seems to be worth further investigation – any plans for more Chopper coming up any time soon?

DB: May those honeyed words flutter from your mouth to Tharg’s ears. I certainly have a notebook here full of ideas.

You’ve been very fortunate with your Chopper stories to have worked with a couple of stunning artists. First, obviously, there was Brendan McCarthy. Here though, it’s a completely different look with Tom Foster’s wonderful work.

DB: Whenever I’m trying to explain 2000 AD to Americans I always start by explaining how, as a new writer working for 2000 AD, it was a really rich learning experience to see wildly different interpretations of my first few scripts come in. I’ve been blessed over the years to work with such great artists, not just at 2000 AD, but across the board.

Tom and Brendan in particular, are two people whose work I’ve admired since I first encountered it. And to be able to write for them, and see what magic they weave with my scratched-out-with-a-stick scripts has been beyond gratifying. I suppose what I’m basically saying is: they really do make me look good!

Which seems as good a place as any to bring Tom Foster, artist extraordinaire, into the conversation…

Tom, when it came to Chopper in this year’s Sci-Fi Special, you were not only taking on a classic, much-loved character, but following in the footsteps of giants artistically – with the last Chopper series benefiting from the art of Brendan McCarthy.

So… terrifying much?

TF: The good thing about a character like Chopper is that he’s been drawn by enough different artists that you don’t feel obligated to live up to one particular person’s rendition. Obviously, McCarthy is 2000 AD royalty, so there were some pretty big shoes to fill, but we have dissimilar enough styles that I hope no one will make too many unfavourable comparisons.

Obviously, your Chopper is different to what’s gone before, both with your artwork and with the entire mood/emotional state of the character. But I think you’ve done something of a stunning job of it. But there’s one particular panel of Chopper soaring through the Blocks in Oz, that screams classic Chopper.

This one in fact… both the full panel in your inks and a blow-up of the finished panel…

It’s a small panel, but it’s so well done, just looking like a perfect, classic Chopper moment, harking back to the Chopper of old that we all fell in love with.

Was that a deliberate thing on your part to be referencing the classic Chopper surfing through the blocks?

TF: Partly, yes. But it was mostly there for story purposes. I only really had one panel to get from a big establishing shot of Chopper’s new digs to him stumbling across the convoy in the Radback. So I wanted something that very definitely communicated him flying out of the city and covering some distance. And thank you for the criminally flattering review.

DB: Oh yes, that particular shot was all Tom – in the script I had suggested panel one could be a close-up of Chopper busting open the door of his home and panel two could be a wider shot showing us both him escaping and the wider context of the interesting place he now lives.

That was way too pedestrian for Mr. Foster, who slammed those first two scripted descriptions into one mega-panel, freeing up panel two for a Supersurf callback that I’ve already had tattooed on my chest.

It’s also Tom’s fault that Chop is nude.

TF: Yes, I can confirm that. If you’re drawing a man leaping out of bed and bouncing around a confined space, confounding the police, and you DON’T draw him naked then you need to take a good look at your priorities.

Tom, you’ve recently come off the Judge Dredd: Penitent Man strip, now you get to do Chopper… are you secretly completing a wishlist of 2000 AD classic characters here?

TF: It looks that way. I’ve been very lucky with my assignments over the last few years and this one was a particular favourite. It’s not that I was specifically waiting to do a Chopper story, but, when I started working on it, I discovered how much fun he is to draw.

David, away from 2000 AD, congratulations to you for the recent news that your and Meghan Hetrick’s Vertigo series, Red Thorn, has been picked up by Emilia di Girolamo, production company Wall to Wall, and BBC Scotland as what’s being reported as a six hour-long episode series. Are you involved in that at all, consulting, writing?

DB: I wish I could talk about that sort of stuff, but NDAs forbid me from going into any detail. I think it’s okay to say that Meghan and myself sold that option last year and that it wasn’t the first. Various giddy parties have wanted to bring Red Thorn to television since the first issue dropped. Red Thorn has been good to me in many ways… It got me on the front page of the Scotsman, and invited to my beloved Edinburgh Book festival and other entirely unexpected occasions like a function at the Scottish Parliament, where I got to drink whisky with Succession’s Brian Cox and discuss socialism. It also provided me an easy-street route into television which meant I didn’t have to beg for scraps. RIP Vertigo. Sniff…

Well, we wish you and Meghan all the best with Red Thorn – we’re looking forward to seeing it!

What sort of things can we expect to see from both of you in the future?

DB: I’m currently typing away on a story for an upcoming Regened Prog starring a very familiar face, to be drawn by a firm fan favourite artist, who I’ve worshipped since I was a nipper, and finally (I hope) featuring Victoria Coren Mitchell.

It really is a very unhealthy thing, isn’t it?

TF: I’m back on Dredd again, but it might be a while before it comes out. I’ve been really slow with it so far as there’s quite a bit of detail in it, but I’m hoping to pick up the pace in short order.

Thank you to both Tom and David for all of that… well, apart from the whole VCM thing perhaps.

You can find the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special at your local newsagent, local comic shop, and, of course, at the 2000 AD web shop from 7 July.

For even more on the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special, you’ll be able to see more interviews over the coming week, plus we chat to Neil Roberts about putting together that great cover in this Covers Uncovered feature.

Now, for more of David Baillie here at the 2000 AD site, be sure to read the interview from David and Brendan McCarthy all about Chopper: Wandering Spirit, then look at this one with Anna Morozova about the Regened strip Viva Forever, and another with Rob Davis all about those troubles with Gronkses.

And for more from Tom Foster, don’t forget to look up the couple of interviews here at the site from Tom – as part of the Thought Bubble/2000 AD contest winners, and all about Judge Dredd: A Penitent Man. Plus, his legendary From The Drawing Board video is here and you can hear more of his dulcit tones in the 2000 AD lockdown tapes here as well.

And now…more of Tom Foster’s gorgeous looking artwork… starting with the complete process of pencils, inks, finished art for page one of Chopper: Dreamgazer

Chopper: Dreamgazer – page 1 – pencils by Tom Foster
Chopper: Dreamgazer – page 1 – inks by Tom Foster
And the finished page, nearly showing Chopper in all his glory!

And the full process from complete roughs, through pencils and inks, to final finished coloured panel for page 3, panel 1…

Chopper: Dreamgazer – page 2, panel 1 – roughs by Tom Foster
Chopper: Dreamgazer – page 2, panel 1 – pencils by Tom Foster
Chopper: Dreamgazer – page 2, panel 1 – inks by Tom Foster
And the final panel from Chopper: Dreamgazer – page 2, panel 1 by Tom Foster

And now the inks for page four of Dreamgazer, following by a few inked figure poses…