Marking 2000 AD‘s 45th birthday, 2022’s summer special has a musical theme as the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic continues to celebrate 45 Revolutions Per Minute with Comic Rock!

Out on the shelves, right now, it’s the Sci-Fi Special at the speed of 45, including a stunning Judge Dredd story written by Michael Carroll and with a superb art job by Stewart K Moore, all suggested by Mike’s favourite music, Alphaville’s Ascension Day. We talked to Mike already, now it’s SK Moore’s turn to tell you all about it…

Okay, so this was all meant to be done and sorted last week, but art droid Moore was bogged down with work (and not work for Tharg either… bad art droid, bad art droid!)

However, if you’ve ever seen any of Stewart’s wonderful Covers Uncovered pieces, you know this one’s going to be absolutely worth the wait – and here he’s pulled out the stops once more to give us a full breakdown of the process behind Judge Dredd: Ascension. We’ve got images, we’ve got words, and we’ve got video for you…

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Hi there Stewart, let’s talk a little about Judge Dredd: Ascension, Mike Carroll’s story inspired by his favourite band, Alphaville and their track Ascension Day. So, given that Mike got the choice of music, how was it for you?

STEWART K MOORE: I don’t think I realised all the stories in the issue would be similarly inspired by music. Michael had the song reference mentioned at the top of his script, I saw that and just thought it was there to be helpful in some way to me. I draw to music all the time and differing music styles are important to how I work. But it wasn’t until a few days in that I clued-in that this was an over-arching theme. I might have been told, but I can’t recall. I just get stuck in and may have missed that.

Since it was inspired by a song, did you get elements of Ascension Day, whether from the lyrics, the mood, the pace of the song, into your storytelling here?

SKM: I did aim to link to a few lyrical elements. I also referenced the film Alphaville in another way. The band take their name from the French New-Wave science fiction film Alphaville so I put the director Jean-Luc Godard in one panel. I drew a man who looks a bit like him, anyway. That man is getting help from a paramedic in one panel.

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Ascension Day is also a Christian tradition referring to Christ’s ascension – physical ascension – into heaven. The villains runaway ego suggests, maybe, something of a ‘God Complex’ going on with the villain in this story. He seems to see himself as a potential saviour but he’s more an antichrist type.

So, on the last page, I have him being ‘raised up’ with his arms outstretched as though crucified. Dredd, bathed in light, for another reason, might be a spoiler, so I won’t define that, but another key element of Christ’s ascension. Suffice to say also, in essence here, a Pontus Pilate. Medical ‘crosses’ dot the panels.

And the other ‘Ascension ‘ – Judge Fray gets lifted up

Stewart, when you’re given something like this, how do you go about fleshing it all out? Is it a case of read and re-read the script whilst listening to the Alphaville track to get the tone and feel of it all down?

SKM: Yes, I get the script and hit the couch and read it over a few times, fairly slowly because I’m seeing it as I read. I watch it in my head and mostly it flows. But here and there I stop and re-read because I’m also composing panels and I’m thinking about the order in which people speak, so that affects my compositions.

I also don’t commit to thumbnail sketching until I’ve seen it all in my head. I then think about how to open the story and close the story with strong pages. A powerful opening page is very important.

I then look for a few key pages in which I can build panels on panels, as though coming at you in time. This is hard for me to explain, but it’s a prominent quality in Dredd comics. Henry Flint does it particularly well. It’s very hard to get right.

Then I thumbnail sketch everything. And then I blow up my thumbnails and drop them into pages in Clip Studio and grey them out and switch them to blue pencil so they are very light. Then I rest on that for a few hours. In this case over night and began inking in the morning.

Was it something where Mike’s story laid out all the story beats for you already or were you instrumental in getting the pacing right?

SKM: I’m not sure how to answer the beat question. A lot is right there in scene description. But we artists have these other considerations when it comes to drawing. I guess my aim is to get 100% of what The Writer gives me down on the page with another 100% from me in terms of the scene direction, characterisation, setting, attitude.

The Demon Fleet gang – just one of the many added elements that make up an SK Moore Dredd

SKM: Sometimes I think I came up with some element or other only to see it was in the script all along. In this case only one gang (I think) is named, so I gave an opposing gang the name ‘The Demon Fleeto’. ‘Fleet’ or ‘Fleeto’ is a word long found among Glasgow gangs. I gave them demon masks as another theological reference. There’s just not a lot of time to think about it all because my actual drawing takes a bit of time, so I kind of forget how I did this or that.

Stewart, it’s another story from you where I just know there’s so much going on, so many wonderful details in the art that we could spend an entire month zooming in to almost microscopic detail to find them all. But how about picking a few and telling us all about them?

SKM: Well, the villain is obviously a bad guy but he’s not entirely wrong about the Justice Department. At any rate, this may only be his jaundiced view, but I drew the top of the med bay as an inverted Tick, as though it’s feeding off the city. There is also a device on the last page that is also, basically, a Tick.

And the other ‘tick’ reference in Ascension – words blacked out by Justice Department order

SKM: Mega-City One is eerily quiet in places and very often so in the comics. So I have two panels that glimpse the teeming millions. Both took a while. One is a market and the other several levels of activity across a section of streets. I felt the first street scene I saw in my head had been done to death and I would not be bringing anything new to the strip by drawing what flashed in on default. So I discarded that thumbnail. I then tried to think of a street scene we have never seen in MC-1.

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SKM: Like the Tick, this panel has a hidden image. You can glimpse a chyron I added that plays on the WW2 era public service posters but it changes ‘Keep Calm And Carry On‘ To ‘Keep Left And Move On.’

[Another feature of talking to Stewart – I always learn something new. Case in point, Chyron, noun, ‘an electronically generated caption superimposed on a television or movie screen.’]

SKM: On the wall, there’s a Pacman-like symbol. Below that is a crowd and competitive eater (eating in his spare time).

Now, if you pull back you can see that the staircase and Chyron and overhang form a larger version of that same Pac-Man and the crowd on the stairs are in its mouth.

Michael had described in his script a beating in the street to show the oppression of MC-1 and then I tried to find a way to imbed that impression in another visual way, the city devouring the people. Aiming to give the reader more every time they look at that strip.

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And now one of Stewart’s great process videos showing you how the Mega-City One street scene above was put together –

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SKM: Another example I can share is ‘iOS the KILL-BOT’

If you look closely it’s basically a flattish drone but keep looking and you might note that it’s kinda similar to the classic assassin. Hat and coat collar up, one eye squinted as it lines up the shot.

iOS the KILL BOT – he ain’t winking at you

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After all that Ascension work influenced by Alphaville’s track, has Mike turned you into a big fan now? Or more to the point, do you use music to work to at all?

SKM: I remembered their hits and I like what I hear but I’ve not explored. I use music to motivate. I have a horror playlist for when I drew Defoe and I have a 2000 AD list for sci-fi action, you know, to keep me in the zone.

But I don’t listen to any of that music for leisure…but then, I don’t actually have any leisure time because If I have time to listen to music then I should really be drawing. I mean, I watch shows on the weekends but reading and just ‘hanging out’ suffers because I have so much to do. I’m always drawing something.

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And to end with, what’s coming up from you in the future?

SKM: Well, I’m working on something for the Christmas issue of 2000 AD, so look out for that. I just completed an oil painting yesterday that leans toward a Frazetta-like atmosphere for a new collection of a classic British comic character TBA.

Plus, Clover Press are just about to publish my graphic novel of Shakespeare’s Macbeth based on the performances of the Prague Shakespeare Company, originally produced by me as a small-press piece. And in October, I think, we will see the final volume of Project MKULTRA : Sex, Drugs and the CIA, also from Clover, a total of 262 pages. So I have to complete a special edition cover for that.

Plus plus, Shift will be publishing my adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Thrawn Janet in their next issue. I’m also starting a new optical illusion portrait like my Sharon Tate portrait.

In other work, I had a part in Wheel of Time season 2, so I’m curious to see how that pans out. Nothing big, they just needed somebody that could ride a horse while speaking :D, multitasking you might say, so I’m curious to see how that panned out. It wouldn’t be the first time I hit the cutting room floor :D.

Yes, Stewart’s also an actor when he’s not painting and making comics – and here’s Stewart the actor in Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys where he played the corrupt clockmaker…

SKM: Beyond that most nights I’m burning offerings before my framed picture of Tharg (that I keep in a special grotto in my studio) in the hope of receiving some mighty beneficence in the form of scripts…….always. Need me to draw anything?

‘Go on, Giz a Job!’

And with that Boys From The Blackstuff image, off he went… like I said, it might be a bit late but, damn, that was worth it!

A massive thank you to Stewart for going above and beyond yet again!Judge Dredd: Ascension is the opening track in this years’ 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special 2022 – available right now from wherever Thrill Power is sold, including the 2000 AD web shop.

If you want to see more and read more from Stewart, you can go be amazed at the Covers Uncovered for 2000 AD Prog 2179 and the sort-of Covers Uncovered for the special poster in the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special 2020, the 2000 AD Encyclopedia, and the wonderfully long version for 2000 AD Prog 2239.

You can (and should) follow him on Twitter, go look at his website, and his incredible Graphic Novel, PROJECT MK ULTRA: Sex, Drugs, and the CIA Volume 1 is available right now, with Volume 2 coming very soon.

Now, more of those great process videos that Stewart’s sent along for our enjoyment… first Lawmaster Leap, looking like this in the finished Sci-Fi Special…

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And then there’s this one… Inking Judge Dredd, featuring this panel…

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And another – Direct Inking… showing how this panel was constructed…

The whole thing…
… and the close-up on the Elvis drugs bust

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And finally, those magnificent SK Moore Mega-City Punks that you’ll find all across this panel…