This year, the 2000 AD Sci-FI Special gives us a trip around the Dreddworld, with one big storyline threading it’s way through six stories featuring Judge Dredd, Judge Anderson, Cursed Earth Koburn, Chopper, Armitage, Devlin Waugh, and Judge Inaba!
After building it all up with adventures in the Cursed Earth, Mega-City One, Oz, Brit-Cit, and Hondo City, It’s all brought back to the wastes of the Cursed Earth in the final tale, Apotheosis, co-written by the architects of the big storyline, Michael Carroll and Maura McHugh. The art on Apotheosis is by brand-new art droid and winner of the 2020 2000 AD/Thought Bubble Talent Competition, James Newell.
So, for the last of these Sci-Fi Special interviews, it’s time to chat to James about getting his big break, the thrill of being published, and how to celebrate his debut…
Hello James, how the devil are you? Living the dream? Vaxxed up and staying safe?
JAMES NEWELL: Very good, thanks for asking.
Your debut with 2000 AD comes in the final strip, Apotheosis, in the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special – I imagine that’s rather a special feeling?
JN: Correct, I’m over the moon actually, I’ve been a 2000 AD fan for many years now, the comic is the reason I draw and 2000 AD has always been my main inspiration.
It’s also slightly unusual, seeing as you’re the winner of the 2000 AD & Thought Bubble art contest from 2020, and that usually means your first published 2000 AD strip is a Future Shock. We’ll still see your Future Shock, written by your fellow 2000 AD/TB winner, Paul Starkey, later on in 2021, but Apotheosis will be your first credit in the Prog.
TN: Yes, I did complete the art for Paul Starkey’s excellent winning pitch from the script contest, but it’s yet to be scheduled for publication, so I was quite surprised to get commissioned again so soon after and thrilled that it was a Dredd script!
How did you find the whole experience of putting together such an important chapter in a big event for 2000 AD?
TN: I really enjoyed it actually, and when I spotted Maura McHugh & Michael Carroll credited on the script I knew this was going to be a good mix of characters and action, so I found myself being swept along with the story. I wasn’t aware of the details of the other stories but Matt did give me some art, so I did not stray too far from the continuity the other artists had established on the project.
Have you seen a copy of the Sci-Fi Special yet? What’s it feel like to see your name in there?
TN: I haven’t seen the final lettered or coloured strip yet, and I’m looking forward to reading the entire special from cover to cover.
I’m still a paper comic guy and don’t read online so I will have to wait till it comes through the door.
And of course, I’m going to photograph my credit card and send it to my friends that know just what that means!
Obviously, the accolade of winning the 2000 AD/TB contest is rather a big thing and has led to many a script and art droid getting regular work in both the Prog and the Judge Dredd Megazine – including three of previous winners right here in the Sci-Fi Special; you, Tom Foster, and Liam Johnson.
How important would you say winning the competition has been for you?
TN: Winning the 2000 AD/TB comp has been an incredible honor & massively encouraging to me in my work.
Did you already know about the 2000 AD talent search and what convinced you to enter?
TN: I’d been aware of it for a number of years and decided to enter finally in 2020. Because of Covid, the festival was all online and we could email in our submissions, so it allowed me to concentrate on the work and the deadline for submissions – there would never be a better time to get my work seen by 2000 AD professionals and get some good feedback on it.
This was your first time and you won – impressive indeed!
As for the competition itself, for 2020 it was obviously a virtual event, with the brief to draw your own version of Chris Burnham’s Journey to the Edge of the World from 2000 AD 2184. The entries were narrowed down to a short-list of six that went before the expert panel of Matt “D’Israeli” Brooker, Chris Burnham, and John McCrea.
Can you tell us a little about the actual process of entering and the sheer mortifying fear of that final judging panel, virtual or not – especially as one of the panel was the man who’d written and drawn the strip you’d drawn?
TN: Once the script was up on the Thought Bubble website I had a read and thought, how am I to draw all this?
Then had a look at the final strip by Chris from the Prog and thought, how am I to follow this?
Then I calmed down and just made the best stab at my version working right up the the deadline and emailed it off.
I wasn’t aware that I was a finalist until I was watching it on Youtube and my name came up halfway in. After I came down from that initial shock I thought the critique of my work was really great and I was taking notes on what to look out for on my next drawing project.
After that, to hear I won was just out of this world!
What advice would you give to up-and-coming writers and artists about getting into comics in general, and the 2000 AD/Thought Bubble competition in particular?
TN: My advice to artists that want to do comics would be to collaborate, find a writer that also wants to do comics, but keep your projects short, Future Shock type short, and show your work to comic professionals whenever you can – but be sure to take on board what they say to improve.
For those new to you and your art, what work have you done already?
TN: I’ve worked on the 2000 AD fanzine Zarjaz over the years & recently I worked with Pat Mills on Spacewarp drawing the character Slayer.
Yes, Zarjaz, the 2000 AD fanzine. Through the years, this is another source of not only some really good strips featuring the characters of 2000 AD, but also proven to be another great training ground for writers and artists of the future.
Sadly, we recently lost the publisher of Zarjaz, Dave Evans (Bolt-01), an artist, letterer, editor, and publisher (who never stopped being a fan), and someone whose sterling work has helped so many creators over the years.
JN: Yes, I’ve worked with Dave over the years doing a number of strips for Zarjaz and it was very sad to hear of this death and condolences go out to his family. The fanzine was very important to me in my development as a comic artist, working with like-minded people on the characters we love. Dave provided an easy-going working environment which, having worked on my own fanzines in the past, I know is no easy task! He used to send out drawings with our Zarjaz orders of all the characters, it was a delightful bonus to get original art with the copies of Zarjaz and DogBreath.
He will be missed in the community.
Finally, what’s coming up for you in the near, or not so near future?
JN: Currently I’m drawing up a promo image of the character Slayer for SpaceWarp and catching up on drawing my own Sci-Fi strip Skeleton Crew that is in the vein of the DC Thomson 80’s Starblazer, just for fun!
Thank you to James for talking to us – always so great to hear from all the new and upcoming talent! For more on James’ 2000 AD/TB art contest win, see here for the full judging video and all of the entries that made the final.
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, including this one with Matt Smith, Michael Carroll, and Maura McHugh, the architects of the Special, plus we chat to Neil Roberts about putting together that great cover in this Covers Uncovered feature.