This summer, things are heating up in the world of Judge Dredd with the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special! as we bring you a Dreddworld event spanning the globe and featuring Judge Dredd, Judge Anderson, Cursed Earth Koburn, Chopper, Armitage, Devlin Waugh, and Judge Inaba!

Planned by Tharg (Matt Smith) with writers Michael Carroll and Maura McHugh plotting out the overall arc and writing framing chapters, this is something to make Summer 2021 very Special – so we caught up with that particular triple-threat of talent to talk about taking the Sci-Fi Special all around the Dreddworld…

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(Cover by Neil Roberts)

Everything kicks off in this year’s 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special with Judge Dredd meeting up with Cursed Earth Koburn in Biohazard by Mike and Ben Willsher, followed by a globe-trotting adventure kicking off in Oz with Chopper: Dreamgazer by David Baillie and Tom Foster, Armitage: Natural Fern Killer by Liam Johnson and Robin Smith, and Hondo City Justice: Daughters of Uranium by Karl Stock and Neil Googe. We’re then back to MC-1 with Maura writing Judge Anderson: All Will Be Judged with artist Anna Morozova, before everything wraps up in Apotheosis, by Mike and Maura, and drawn by Thought Bubble 2000 AD art competition winner James Newell.

Matt, Maura, Mike… this year, you’ve got something rather special for the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special – a Dreddworld crossover featuring Judge Dredd, Judge Anderson, Chopper, Armitage, Devlin Waugh, and Judge Inaba.

So, I suppose the first question to ask is to Matt… how did the idea for this years Special come about?

Matt Smith: I was thinking of ideas of how this year’s special could be themed – previous years had been a tribute to Carlos Ezquerra and marking 20 years of Rebellion – and settled on a Dreddworld special with a series of linked stories featuring various characters from the ‘verse. It occurred to me that, considering all the damage that’s been done to the Earth since the Atomic Wars, and the radiation that’s seeped into it, there might be something in the planet deciding it’s had enough and strike back. That was the general gist I presented Mike and Maura with.

So, once you had the idea in mind, when did you get Michael and Maura involved?

MS: As soon as I settled on the idea, I went to them to hammer it into shape, and plot the arc of the various stories.

(From Apotheosis – art by James Newell)

Mike, Maura… I suppose it was one of those gigs that you really couldn’t say no to?

Michael Carroll: Definitely, and not just because the first rule of being a freelance writer is to always answer “Yes!” to any potential work! It’s fun to do something a little different and to remind the readers that there’s more to Dredd’s world than Dredd himself. Plus it was a chance to finally collaborate on a comic with Maura, with whom I’ve been friends since the late 1900s.

Maura McHugh: Mike’s dodgy memory is acting up, we’ve been friends since the 1800s… but yes, taking on this project was a no-brainer, despite the schedule re-shuffling and the extra writer wrangling – it’s a good job I learned to crack a whip during the Gold Rush…

Had you had any thoughts about this sort of Dreddverse crossover before this?

MC: Yep! Every Empire Falls did that to some degree, bringing in established characters who’d been on hiatus for a while, like Armitage and Koburn.

Whenever there’s a major Dredd story there’s always a part of me that wonders what the rest of the world thinks about it. Does the big epic event even make a splash in, say, Northern Lieberstan? Maybe on their local TV news channel it’s relegated to the “wacky” bit after the sports news. “And finally… in Mega-City One, those tragedy-prone meggers are once again facing an invasion, this time by interdimensional alien spider-frogs!” The Lieberstanian viewers are watching this, thinking, “I just don’t understand why anyone would want to live there!”

MM: Over the centuries Mike and I have discussed a lot of potential Dreddverse stories, but it was great to have the Mighty Tharg’s blessing to indulge some of them for the Sci-Fi Special.

(From Apotheosis – art by James Newell)

As far as the story itself, what sort of wild adventure can we expect to be thrilled by this summer? Without giving anything away, this is something that’s really got the grand scale about it, the fate of the planet in fact…

MC: The story grew from Matt’s initial suggestion. Maura and I spent many hours bouncing ideas back and forth, but we quite quickly settled on the idea that we needed a global threat that couldn’t simply be punched into submission… plus there would have to be repercussions. One of the things I love most about Dreddworld stories is that they can have a resonance: there’s no reset button here, no rebooting of the universe and setting everything back to normal. There will be long-term effects of the events of this story!

MM: Thank Grud for high-speed broadband! Mike and I worked through the over-arching idea of a global event and how the various characters would interact with it. It starts with Dredd in the Cursed Earth and we get snapshots of this rolling problem via Chopper, Armitage & Devlin Waugh (a genius pairing, btw) and Judge Inaba, before a dust-up in the Meg with Anderson that culminates back in the Cursed Earth with Dredd.

When it came to which characters would be involved, how was that decided upon?

MS: Dredd and Anderson were a given. We only see Chopper fleetingly these days, and I thought it would be good to have him back, so he brought a non-Judge aspect. Armitage and Devlin represent Brit-Cit, and Inaba is a good example of another Judge system, very different to the West.

MC: The line-up was mostly Matt’s suggestion, largely based on the need to show that the crisis isn’t just confined to Mega-City One or even North America. In the early stages, I had a couple of other characters I wanted to revisit but there just wasn’t enough space for them. I’m not saying which characters, though, just in case we’re given the opportunity to do something like this again!

And as for the other creative teams on the other Special – how did you decide on them?

MS: It was a combination of writers/artists that had worked on the character before, and those who I thought would be good fit.

MC: The creative teams were all Matt’s choices. Maura and I pushed for a couple of specific creators with whom we wanted to work, but these things frequently come down to availability as much as suitability. We’re definitely happy with how it’s all worked out, though!

MM: Droids assemble! We were delighted with how the teams worked out, and to be partisan I was super pleased to work with Anna Morozova on the Anderson story. Her art is gorgeous, complimented by beautiful colours by Pippa Bowland and fab lettering by Jim Campbell.

Oh yes, I have to agree on Anna Morozova’s Anderson work being gorgeous, it absolutely is – and more on that in a little while!

(Anderson, Psi: All Will Be Judged- art by Anna Morozova)

With the other writers involved, what sort of brief did you give to them – was there some leeway built into the structure of the overarching storyline to allow the talented bunch of reprobates the space to develop their own little corners of the Summer Special?

MC: Once we’d nailed down the overall story, Maura and I created a detailed outline. We knew from the start that we wanted to open with a Dredd story and then return to it at the end, via an Anderson tale, but the bits in between we deliberately left more vague to give the other writers room to play. The idea was that we’d say, “We want your story to be about this, and it should include these specific elements. Now go away and have fun with it!”

I wrote the opening Dredd script to kick things off, Maura edited it, then we sent the script and outline and character notes to David (Baillie), Karl (Stock), and Liam (Johnson). We all got together on a big Zoom conference call, which was tremendous fun and very productive as the ideas flew back and forth. I took tons of notes in order to keep track of everything, and when we were done I wrote up outlines for the Inaba, Armitage/Waugh and Chopper scripts and fired them off to the respective writers to make sure we all knew where we were going.

(Chopper: Dreamgazer – art by Tom Foster)

MC: It was a real buzz seeing the scripts come in and then working with the writers to polish them! I’m pretty sure they secretly (or maybe not so secretly!) grew to resent us picking their scripts apart and sometimes bouncing them back, but that sort of pain is worth it for the end result. Once Maura and I were happy, we passed the scripts on to Matt.

I reckon we all learned a heck of a lot from the process – I know I certainly did!

After that, Maura wrote the Anderson script, and she and I collaborated on the final Dredd/Anderson chapter, Apotheosis. We’d created a shared Google drive for everything so Liam, David and Karl were able to see the other scripts, plus when the artwork started to come in Matt uploaded it to the drive. This meant that we were able to make a few last-minute tweaks to the strips – which I think made all the difference!

MM: Collaborating with David, Liam and Karl was pure Zarjaz. That Zoom call was a great example of how bouncing around ideas can lead to exciting outcomes. They’d had time to read the general outline, see what we’d envisioned, and bring their creative input. Mike and I wanted full transparency so we all saw and read the scripts as they came in.

Working over the scripts was useful – I give Mike’s script a grilling and he slow-roasted mine, so we weren’t exempt from critique, plus Matt always adds keen insights. Writing with Mike on the final script was a close collaboration, we live-edited the final draft tightly, and that was after each of us bashed at the script. And all the writers hit their deadlines I’m pleased to say!

It was fantastic to see the artwork roll in and get a fast pass at the lettering – production deadlines aren’t forgiving so we don’t always get this privilege. And it gave us a renewed respect for Matt’s difficult logistic work of pulling all the elements together on time!

(Hondo City Justice: Daughters of Uranium – art by Neill Googe)

We have a real mix of the old and the new here with the material and the creators involved. At one end, we have the delight of seeing Robin Smith on Armitage… and then bang up to date, we have Liam Johnson & James Newell – with Liam being the 2019 Thought Bubble & 2000 AD writing contest winner and James the winner of 2020’s virtual TB/2000 AD art contest.

It’s quite a big step here for James as well – am I right in thinking this is his debut for 2000 AD, before the customary Future Shock even?

MS: It’ll be his first published work for 2000 AD, as this will come out before his and Paul Starkey’s Thought Bubble Future Shock, even though the FS was drawn first.

And somewhere in between, we have a wonderful array of talent… Ben Willsher, David Baillie, Tom Foster, Karl Stock, Neil Googe, Anna Morozova… all doing great things – it really does speak to the great breadth and depth of talent that 2000 AD has available to it.

MM: Yes, as usual, the strength of any 2000 AD Prog or Judge Dredd Megazine is the array of art styles, and we’re fortunate to have such a splendid range of talents. And all the stories pop with glorious colour and wonderful lettering.

MC: With all respect to the other artists – who’ve all done an amazing job – I have to say I’m most delighted to have Robin Smith on board. He’s one of the unsung heroes of 2000AD. An absolute legend – and one of the few comic artists who’s completely mastered cartoony and realistic styles!

(Armitage: Natural Ferm Killer – art by Robin Smith)

Now, let’s narrow this down a little to just concentrate on the three strips you were all directly connected with; Dredd, Anderson, and the joint-written Apotheosis.

So… Mike, let’s talk Dredd & Cursed Earth Koburn & Ben Willsher…

Now, we all know that Ben’s art is a particularly good example of something really clean and lush, so wonderfully suited to Dredd, but the one question I really want to ask is… does he always request that his writer put something that he can draw in those orange and red tones everywhere?

MC: Hah, well, I don’t know about that… Ben doesn’t always do his own colours, you see!

And as for Koburn, he’s one of those characters that we all love… but also probably one of those characters that’s so good because he’s not been in the Prog or the Meg too often. Was it one of those particular joys to be able to include him here?

MC: I do love Koburn – and his great-great-etc.-grandfather Major Eazy – but for me he’s definitely one of those “less is more” characters whose stories work best when they’re focusing on other people’s problems rather than delving into their own past and wrestling with their inner angst, so he’s an ideal candidate for this sort of tale: there’s bad stuff happening and he’s going to do whatever it takes to make it right. Koburn is exactly what he appears to be – and that’s what I love about him! He’s tremendous fun to write – maybe even more so than Dredd because he’s not such a stickler.

(Judge Dredd: Biohazard – featuring Cursed Earth Koburn and introducing Mallory Rook – art by Ben Willsher)

And you also get to introduce Mallory Rook to the storyline – a character with a huge amount of potential for the future.

MM: Mike and I created a biography for Mallory and we have a number of ideas of what we could do with her next, but that’s all down to the Mighty Tharg.

MC: Mallory was created to fill the story’s need for an antagonist, but she very quickly grew to become something much stronger and more solid than that. I can’t say too much about her without giving away the plot… but she’s definitely one of the more interesting characters I’ve helped create over the past few years.

(Judge Dredd: Biohazard – art by Ben Willsher)

Maura… onto Judge Anderson… it’s a strip and a character you’ve had a great fun with over the last couple of years. And here that continues, albeit in the context of the bigger story you’re creating here.

MM: People are probably fed up of me banging on about how much I love Anderson, and all credit to Wagner, Bolland, Grant et al for creating such a cool and fun character. I’m lucky to be able to play with this toybox (Anderson‘s head is not detachable, I’ve checked). 

Just as you did earlier, I’ve got to praise your Anderson artist Anna Morozova, who I’m interviewing about her art for the Sci-Fi Special very soon! There’s so much beauty and brilliance in her pages – the best of her work I’ve seen thus far.

MM: Much of what you try to do as a writer is to inspire rather than prohibit your artist. It’s a fine trick, especially if you don’t have a previous working relationship with your artist. Anna loved getting a crack at Anderson and you can see that passion in her artwork. She clearly thought a great deal about the layouts and has such a fluid and dynamic style. I’d be happy to work with Anna anytime!

(Anderson, Psi: All Will Be Judged- art by Anna Morozova)

And finally, Mike and Maura, you bring it all together in Apotheosis, where it all goes from 0 to apocalyptic very quickly.

I suppose that’s the great thing about Dreddworld in many ways – it’s perfectly possible to include so many different threats, from something very real-word based, a coup, political greed, invasion, going all the way up to something mystical, supernatural, or even something covered by the alternative definition of apotheosis – the elevation to divine status.

MC: I agree. Dredd’s world quickly evolved into this almost perfect canvas for any kind of storytelling, any genre. You’d be hard-pressed to find a story that wouldn’t work as a Dreddworld tale… and I really wish I hadn’t said that because I just know that now I’m going to try to find one.

MM: Any story can be told in the Dreddverse because it’s got everything – the grand sweep of space opera, gritty crime investigations, poignant interpersonal moments, dollops of slapstick, plus my favourite: horror. I particularly like creating big moments in comics, because if you’ve got the right artist they can bring it.

One final question on the Sci-Fi Special – without giving anything away for the readers, the ending of the Sci-Fi Special potentially opens up things for you to revisit at some point… any plans?

MC: Oh yes, there are plans! There are certain elements of this story – and certain other elements that are sort of kicked into motion by this story – that we’re hoping to revisit.

I can’t speak for anyone else involved, but for me, this has been one of my most intense but rewarding comics-related projects in a long time. I’m much more used to sending in scripts and then just moving on to the next thing: most of the time, I don’t even know who the artist will be until the finished comic lands on the doormat.

For this project, Matt gave Maura and I much more input than we’re used to: with most (although not all!) of the strips we got to see the pencils, then inks, then colours, and finally lettering, so at each of those stages we were able to make suggestions and tweaks.

I’ve always been hugely impressed with Matt’s ability to get fifty Progs and twelve Megs out every year, as well as all the specials, but this taster of how much work is really involved has lifted him even higher in my esteem!

Plus the initial Zoom conference chat with Maura, Karl, David, and Liam was extremely fruitful. There’s been around a hundred and fifty different Dreddworld strips published so far: keeping track of what’s going on can be overwhelming. A big conference call once or twice a year between all the Dreddworld writers would be a great way of sparking new ideas as well as preventing us from stepping on each others’ toes.

The whole project has been a huge amount of work, way more than I’d expected, but I’d do it again at the drop of a hat!

MM: Mike and I have had a lot of conversations about potential future narratives, and we hope to pull on some of the threads from this Special. I’m working on an Anderson story next which will happen in the aftermath of these events, and I’m noodling that out for Tharg right now.

And finally, we’ll give the last words to Matt, who came up with it all…

I know that this year we’re only seeing a few Specials through the year, including this 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special and the Black Beth Special (featured here with a Covers Uncovered and check out this interview with writer Alec Worley and artist DaNi). Obviously, the pandemic’s multi-year effects are behind the reduction of the number of Specials. Will it be a case of business as usual next year?

MS: It hasn’t been decided yet what the specials will be next year, but I imagine another Sci-Fi Special will be on the cards. I’ve already got an idea for the theme, based around the anniversary.

Has there been a change in the way readers are getting the work now – have we seen an increase in subscriptions and online sales through the pandemic?

MS: Oh yes, the online shop has been going great guns throughout lockdown.

So… if we are looking ahead to 2022 and the 45th anniversary of 2000 AD, what can we look forward to?

MS: What is The Citadel? Find out in a new unmissable Judge Dredd story by John Wagner and Dan Cornwell, starting in the 45th anniversary prog!

And with that, we say goodbye to Matt, Mike, and Moira… as Matt heads off to create more magic with more Progs, more Megazines, more Specials, and generally keeping everyone and everything in check at the Nerve Centre. He was good enough to let Mike and Maura have a whole half-hour break before putting them back to work at the script-droid cubes!

So don’t let all that hard work on their part go unrewarded! 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.