Judge Dredd: Special Relationship is running right now in the pages of 2000 AD, a thrill power packed political thriller bringing Mega-City One and Brit Cit to the brink of war.
We sat down to talk with writer Rob Williams and artist Patrick Goddard about what to expect from Special Relationship and just how bad things can get…
Rob, Patrick Your new Judge Dredd serial, Special Relationship, began in 2000 AD Prog 2289, a slow-build thing that promises to blow the relationship between Mega-City One and Brit Cit to pieces.
With the first three episodes, there’s an awful lot going on – Sov hackers, diplomatic negotiations, the Atlantis colony being taken over by Brit-Cit, MC-1 dispatching Dredd and a group to take it back, not to mention how difficult it is to get good quality snacks if you’re working in the Sov Hacker farm.
So, Rob, can you give us your take on the story – what’s it all about, who’s involved, and just how big a problem will this end up being in Dredd’s world?
ROB WILLIAMS: For my sins, I thought it’d be fun, and more dramatically compelling, to tell this story out of sequence. Sometimes you need your head seeing to, as it makes for a bit of a headtwist as a writer making sure you have the timeline correct.
But it’s indicative, I hope, of a very small argument escalating and getting out of control to the point where an actual war between MC-1 and Brit-Cit looks likely – with the pesky Sov intelligence unit pushing all the right buttons behind the scenes and MC-1 trying to catch them in the act.
The Black Atlantic Tunnel was destroyed in The Hard Way – a story myself, Arthur Wyatt and Jake Lynch did last year. MC-1 and Brit-Cit, at start of our story, are having tense negotiations about who should pay for this. And then a sensitive piece of intel is dropped in Brit-Cit’s lap. And suddenly two small commando teams – one lead by Dredd – are sent to the rebuilding platform in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean to claim it for their respective cities. While the nukes are getting slowly warmed up in their silos.
How many episodes do we have to look forward to with Special Relationship?
RW: Six for this one.
It’s a series that’s both slow build and action packed, but it feels, more than anything else, like an espionage thriller to me – all the political aspects, the shadowy intelligence agents, the behind the scenes stuff, no-one knowing the whole picture. Is that what you were going for here?
RW: Yeah, I’m a big Le Carre fan and his influence is writ large here. The fact that Smiley was called ‘Smiley’ may have given that away!
But I loved the idea of how a major World War could build from very prosaic things. We open with a vending machine where the one remaining crisp packet won’t drop. Fast forward six episodes and two Mega-Cities could easily be dust and craters.
Yep, it’s all about that damn vending machine really, isn’t it?
One thing that adds to that sense of mystery and intrigue in the storytelling is the split timeline – pre- and post-hack scenes mixing things up – why go this route with this particular story?
RW: Because I like giving myself headaches. And I felt doing it this way built tension. It conveyed the sense that no-one’s got the big picture here, and that while Dredd is being… well, Dredd… across the ocean actions are occurring that effect every bullet he’s firing.
It’s also the first time we’ve seen Patrick on art for one of your big storylines Rob. What do you think of what you ‘ve seen so far?
RW: Paddy’s terrific. Great visceral storytelling. He’s also quite willing to give himself a meltdown drawing insane Mega-City One cityscapes etc.
We did a little two-part Dredd a few years back but this is the first time he and I have done a longer Dredd story together. I’m sure we’ll do more.
Yes, that was the 2-part Unearthed in Progs 2124 and 2125 (co-written by Chris Weston).
Are you glad to get onboard with a longer Dredd this time Patrick?
PATRICK GODDARD: Yes, he’s a busy man to pin down but glad I’ve managed to do it eventually!
Patrick, how did you approach it all – have you been following what’s been going on in Dredd with Maitland, The Red Queen, Atlantis, etc, etc?
PG: Short answer would be…no (for my shame), I was aware of Maitland and co and what happened at Atlantis but I’m always full of gratitude to Tharg for supplying the necessary ref. I just get little time to read comics these days, my “to Read’ pile is getting ridiculous!
What sort of mood were you looking to bring to the story with your art this time round?
PG: I try and tackle Dredd the same way I always do, make it sort of liveable and that it could exist. I didn’t get the whole script at the beginning so I was as much in the dark as anyone as in what direction it was going in too. But it had a mix of everything that you’d expect from Rob; action, humour, consequence and a heavy dose of espionage and setup.
Rob, there’s also something of a sense that things are all connecting up, with stories from Rob, Arthur Wyatt, Rory McConville, all playing a part in each other’s stories recently, all of them looking beyond the borders of MC-1.
You and Arthur rather set things in motion really with the pushing forward of Judge Maitland and her revelation of what could transform the Law in MC-1. But there’s also all that’s gone on with the Red Queen storyline that Arthur’s been busy running over in the Megazine with Jake Lynch. And of course, you all came together recently in The Hard Way (Progs 2250-2255) where Dredd and Maitland were targeted by The Red Queen.
For those that haven’t had chance to catch up… how would you describe how things have gone on? Can you give us something of a catch-up to this point?
RW: Arthur and I have this slow-burn Judge Maitland storyline that we’ve been working on for a few years now. We’ve just written the latest ‘move the Maitland storyline on’ story – The Pitch – and we have the ending all planned out.
It’s Maitland, head of Accounts for the Judges – telling the Council of Five that the whole Justice Dept. system doesn’t work and all they’re doing is funding a non-stop war with the citizens they can never win. Maitland wants to put more money into education to try and stop that war. Will they let her?
The fun thing of running this story so incrementally over a number of years is that both Arthur and I can go off and write other stories that sort of spring out of this narrative spine.
The Hard Way was the Red Queen hiring mercenaries to kill Maitland. Atlantis was blown up at the end of that. That leads to the rebuild, which is an inciting incident in Special Relationship.
We have a couple of other stories that sort of come out of my & Arthur’s big master plot for Maitland too. I have one with Jake Lynch coming up, Sentientoid’s Big Idea. Arthur and I have another in the works. It’s really plot points suggesting other plot points. It’s fun.
Obviously the big take away from the first three episodes is the threat of war between Brit Cit and MC-1, with the conflict escalating on Atlantis Port.
But there’s also a huge political aspect of it. We’ve got three sides here, the Sovs in some form or other, Brit Cit, and Dredd and MC-1… and so many potentially huge submit-plots percolating, Logan’s lies, Brit Cit’s Circus, the mysterious (and threatening) Modric.
Essentially, it feels like you’re definitely adding in a lot of different and new elements to it all. Are you leading up to something big here?
RW: No comment. You’ll have to read on to see.
It’s also a very political tale in more ways than one… as both MC-1 and Brit Cit could be accused of breaking international law ‘in a limited and specific way’… as has been the fashion from the current British government and it’s nearly resigned mop-topped muppet of a PM.
Is this a deliberate little swipe at the goings-on of the modern world that you wanted to get in?
RW: Oh, probably. That’s all in there but not in a concrete too ‘on the nose’ way. It’s more thinking that MC-1 and Brit-Cit have always been allies but why? Why the Special Relationship? Each state lies to each other and attempts to twist any deal in their favour.
The Sov state, meanwhile, was pretty much destroyed in the Apocalypse War but they still keep hitting MC-1 in other ways, with the Chaos Bug being the most obvious. Special Relationship shows them using espionage. Getting in the ears of the Brit-Cit leadership via wealth and influence.
That’s all very Brexit and the way the oligarchs embedded themselves in London and with the Conservative Party. Trying to influence the US election to get Trump in. Putin clearly realised you can go to war with a country without invading. That’s what Dredd, Logan and co are facing here.
Of course, all of this huge interconnecting storyline originates with you and Arthur Wyatt bringing Maitland to the fore in Carry The Nine (Progs 2200-2203). It seems to me that’s a short tale that’s been a real springboard for a hell of a lot of things going on in Dredd’s world.
In an interview about Q-Topia (Megazine 444) recently, I asked Arthur about his plans for Maitland with this.. ‘now that you and Rob Williams have made her a star, you’ve got plans for her haven’t you? But are you ever going to convince Tharg to let you do the ultimate Maitland storyline, where she gets to put her plans in place, solves the crime problem and becomes the greatest Chief Judge of them all?’
Arthur said ‘maybe’… what do you have to say Rob?
RW: I too say ‘Maybe.’ Actually, no, we have talked through that Final Act storyline. We know how it plays out. I hope we’ll get the chance to tell it soon-ish.
Personally, I can’t wait… well, I can, because I want to see Maitland’s story play out for many years, but I also want to see how it all pans out – dammit!
Patrick, I’d imagine Special Relationship is one of the fun jobs to deal with as you’ve got a great mix of things going on here, a lot of variety in what you’re doing?
You’ve got the out and out action of Dredd and Brit Cit going to war in Atlantis, you’ve got the political stuff, lots of talking heads and the chance to impress in so many different ways. And then there’s the strangeness of the Brit Cit mystery scenes, the highly detailed and opulent British surroundings almost going back to the Victorian era.
PG: It’s always more fun when you switch it up, you never draw the same page twice so it’s always exciting to tackle a page every day. I’ve always liked Brit Cit and the mishmash of architecture and design; I could quite easily take a month designing stuff but sadly you just don’t get the time.
Although, I hadn’t realised the bridge/command centre was going to feature so much and would’ve done things different in hindsight (I made things awkward for myself with later scenes regarding its layout). I enjoyed drawing some of the quiet scenes that appear in an Italian restaurant and trying to portray the tension/feeling amongst the characters.
Although, having said all that, I imagine it’s less of a headache than continually referencing all that MC-1 architecture when Ken Niemand sends you a Dredd script with Mona Plankhurst surfing her way through the city!?
PG:I find drawing MC-1 quite enjoyable if i’m honest, especially in those kinds of scenes where you just need an impression of the background. Anything goes in the Meg so you can manipulate the city-scape to fit your composition, add what shapes or shadows that work best.
The only thing I don’t draw are those single lane sky highways that seem suspended magically in mid-air, I just can’t get my brain to draw them! I need to ground it in some way so i know how it works.
Looking back at the last few years, you’ve found yourself increasingly involved with Rebellion and 2000 AD. Just in the last year or so we’ve had Special Relationship and Working Girl, the second Mona Plankhurst Judge Dredd storyline, as well as your work with Garth Ennis on the Battle Action Special and Captain Nina Petrova.
How are you feeling about where your art is right now? Not tempted to go back to teaching? (Don’t!!!!)
PG: Haha no fear of that, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t want me anyway! I think I’m like most artists, you get your good and bad days, I just hope I keep learning and hopefully improving. There’s a lot of exciting new artists out there (annoyingly!) so it’s nice to be continually inspired!
Looking over your work and bio, one thing we’ve never talked about is your involvement with Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor Who. I believe some of your concept art was used to develop her costume?
PG: I’ve worked with Ray Holman the Doctor Who costume designer for quite a few years, since Calpaldi had a slight change of look, I think.
I’ve done a lot his designs over the years; aliens, special guests, cybermen, villains and I drew out Jodie’s first look months in advance so that was quite exciting. I used to draw them traditionally in colour but you soon realise the revisions needed so switched to digital for an easier life. Unfortunately the BBC kept all my originals, a few early ones were displayed at the Doctor Who centre at Cardiff Bay before it closed.
Are you splitting your time now between storyboarding/concept work and comic art like so many artists seem to be doing?
PG: Not so much, comics are very much my full-time job and keeps me busy. I did draw some costume designs for Tom Hardy’s Netflix film Havoc during lockdown but they came to me, I don’t go out looking for that sort of work it’s always been blind luck that it’s found me. There are way more talented people out there than me!
I’m pretty much focussed on comics right now and will be busy drawing my current strip until Christmas I reckon so it’ll be nice without any distractions. Unfortunately I can’t say what it is yet but hopefully people will be excited about it when it gets announced!
Finally, when it comes to Special Relationship, can you take us through your process for getting the work to the finished pages we see? You’re still working traditionally I imagine – no temptation to move into digital yet?
PG: Yep, still all dirty ink and traditional! My process has always been the same, immerse yourself in the script and start working away at your thumbnail sketches, once they’re done, I move straight to the artboard drawing with my trusty blue pencil and then onto ink. I go through phases of pencilling and inking a page as I go but I’m currently pencilling all the pages first and then going back to see if any changes are needed before I ink them. I then hope I’ve left enough room for speech balloons as you never want to suffer the wrath of a letterer!
Here are some process pieces for you – I did a rough colour guide for the ‘commando’ costumes but I didn’t know who was colouring the strip, Quinton [Wnter] had already started work so there was no point in sending them but this was how I saw them…
PG: My rough thumbnail sketches which often evolve (and barely readable!), switching panels about to try and fit everything in…
One last thing – feel free to hype up whatever is coming next from you – whether it’s 2000 AD or beyond.
RW: Sentientoid’s Big Idea is probably next for me on Dredd. It’s a three-parter drawn by Jake Lynch. Then I’m working on a new six-part Dredd drawn by Henry Flint that I’m enjoying writing a great deal. And Simon Fraser and I are still working away on Hershey Books Three and Four. Four will be the final book in our Hershey tale. It’s looking gorgeous.
Thanks as always to both Rob and Patrick for taking the time.
Judge Dredd: Special Relationship began in 2000 AD Prog 2289 and runs through Prog 2294. Who wins? Who loses? Will Brit Cit vote in another useless waste of space politician with no concept of what the real world is like? Actually, I may be confusing fiction and reality there – but these days, that’s very easy to do.
You can pick up Special Relationship from wherever you thrill power is sold, including the 2000 AD web shop.
For more interviews with Rob Williams, have a look at these – with Chris Weston talking Judge Dredd: The Musical, all about doing it The Hard Way with Jake Lynch and Arthur Wyatt – plus, listen to him talking End of Days on the Thrill Cast here. And not to be out-done, Patrick Goddard has plenty of process chat with his Covers Uncovered – Prog 2021, Prog 2185, Prog 2205, Prog 2219, Prog 2244, and Prog 2264.
And because he’s so nice… more Patrick Goddard process work – ‘A couple of Brit-Cit commando judges and their weapons, plus some commando MC1 helmets I quite liked but didn’t fit the story.’
And finally, a little Dredd in peril…