The new Judge Dredd adventure, the Michael Carroll written Desperadlands, began in 2000 AD Prog 2213 and featured the triumphant return to the pages of the Prog of the brilliant William Simpson, his first interior art for nearly 20 years!
2000 AD Prog 2213 is out right now – get it from the web shop here!
Will Simpson has been working in comics since the early 1980s, with early jobs including Warrior (Big Ben), Marvel UK (Transformers) and, of course, 2000 AD. Since then, he’s done memorable work on Hellblazer, Vamps, and Batman at DC Comics and, more recently, ascended the Iron Throne of storyboard artists with his work for nearly a decade on Game of Thrones. Seriously, you want a weapon designing? Simpson’s your go-to guy.
As with so many young artists, his first 2000 AD work came early in his career with Future Shocks – kicking off with Nerves of Steel with Peter Milligan in Prog 408. After this there was work on Judge Anderson with Alan Grant and John Wagner and co-artist Barry Kitson (Hour of the Wolf, Progs 520-531, 1987), and his first Dredd, The Fall Guy with Alan Grant came in the Judge Dredd Mega Special 1988. Following this, there were a few more Dredds with John Wagner, including Banana City (Progs 623-625, 1989), Tale of the Dead Man (Progs 662-665, 1990), and The Chief Judge’s Man (Progs 1244-1247, 2001). And of course,he was the artist responsible for the reimagining of Rogue Trooper in War Machine, written by Dave Gibbons (Progs 650-653, 667-671, 683-687, 1989-1990).
But right now, we’re going to talk Desperadlands. Originally, we were going to run one interview with Mike Carroll and Will Simpson chatting about the strip together, but Mike had loads of fascinating things to say about his writing and Will had a huge amount of art, which means we’re going to run the interview in two parts. Mike’s interview is up later but, right now, we’re here with Will Simpson and we’re taking a good long look at the artwork… which looks just like this…
Okay Will, in 2000 AD Prog 2213 we have the beginning of a new Judge Dredd series, Desperadlands. And it’s a little bit special as it’s the first time we’ve seen your art inside the Prog since June 2001, nearly two decades ago!
So, first things first… welcome back Mr Simpson!
Will Simpson: Sooooo nice to be back!
What’s it like being back in the Prog?
WS: At the moment it’s like some kind of floating myth that hasn’t quite solidified yet…as I haven’t seen a hard copy, so I know I exist on paper, cause the pages are in my studio, but until it’s in a copy of the mag, I’m still in my limbo, knowing I’ve done some artwork, but if I was down the pub, no one would believe me! Ha! Luckily….I can’t go to a pub!!!! Covid advantage! Other than that, the myth feels very cool!
Will, what can you tell us about what to expect from Desperadlands?
WS: Surely I can’t divulge!?
Oh, there’s no need to divulge – your co-conspirator, Mr Carroll spills the beans with us in an interview later in the week!
WS: All I’ll say is that it’s full Of Guns, bikes and Space stuff, misfits and Dirty Harry Dredd! My kind of Sci-Fi! I think the story is more about hinting what’s out there, as we haven’t been Bananas in years, so we get an idea of a world that’s been carrying on into the old west, sort of. It’s displaced and has very ‘Movie ‘western values’. Grab what you can and shoot what you like and the law can piss off! It sets up potential deeper trips.
Will, what brings you back to 2000 AD? Was the lure of Dredd simply too much for you?
WS: I think going as a guest to Cons and only talking about the ‘do you remember when’s’ gets you wondering about what you liked best in your career…and when it comes to the comic world, I always loved my 2000 AD period and it’s freedoms, that becomes the hindsight of, ‘if I could do it over, what would I change?’ and there are things I would change. One of the great benefits of film work, is it buys time to consider other things.
I was lucky to be with Michael on a World Con panel and we got talking. It’s the way opportunities happen. It was very easy to contemplate making space, if Michael has a script and if Matt was up for it.So, I got to do a couple of covers and a poster magazine, before Matt agreed to Desperadlands. It was tentative steps for me, at the same time, having to fit between more film work…and I enjoyed every tense and changeable minute! Comics are where I started and 2000AD was where I really learned to enjoy what I could do!
I know you’ve been a bit busy in the last few years with the whole sitting on the iron throne thing with the Game of Thrones storyboarding gig. Did you miss doing comics in that time – is it just something in the blood?
WS: It’s in the blood. I don’t think I would’ve gotten storyboarding work if I hadn’t produced so many comic pages, learning storytelling. Art has so many ‘landscapes’ of criteria and comic artists are profoundly full of unique ability, capable of delivering believable worlds of the imagination at the drop of a hat. It’s the most unrestrictive platform to play on, why wouldn’t I want back on that rollercoaster in some way!
I suppose after attending my first convention in years, doing a panel about Game of Thrones, and when we touched on the comic art that led to the film work, a guy came forward and said, ‘ you’re that Will Simpson, I thought you were dead!’ I realised I needed to do more comic work and keep benefitting from my ‘live’ status!
One fascinating thing here is that you’ve returned to the painterly stylings of your earlier work with this new Dredd. Work that you were a pioneer of and one of the earliest examples of the painting style that became incredibly popular later on.
WS: There’s a continuity in my mind, and after checking that Matt wanted colour, I knew that I wanted to approach it in a way that was as close to the original as I could muster, after all these years.
And over the years, whether it was the run on Hellblazer (that I fondly remember), or Vamps, or many others, your style has shifted over the years. In fact, looking at the last Dredd you did, The Chief Judge’s Man (Progs 1244-1247, 2001), it’s a radically different style again.
Is this something that you like to do every so often, keeping things fresh?
WS: I think it’s probably more about where your head is at, at a particular time because so much is on instinct. I mean, some companies and stories require different approaches, but 2000 AD is a state of mind and I had to get into a place where the Story desires I had in the past, were equally manipulative here, the push to establish a setting of some depth. One of my favourite things in Dredd was Mega City One, and how every artist had a different approach to it and yet we all knew it was the same place…just a different background, depending on the tale. It has to be Fresh, cause we change, and so it should.
While talking about the artwork, how do you create now? Are you painting old school or using digital now?
WS: I’m still a caveman. I get the charcoal out of my fireplace and after I’ve cooked the wild boar, I mix the fat in with my egg yolks and then…..I pick up my 2B pencil and start scribbling! Pencils, paper, artboard, ink, acrylic, watercolour, gouache and sometimes oil paints, and then after I’ve scanned and pieced together my pages, maybe a little bit of photoshop highlighting, and that’s the art! I’m very old school. I’m in awe of what is done on computer, but I’m better with my tools. It does mean I have lots of physical artwork and a need for great amounts of storage space!!!
Other artists could probably do it digitally, but not me. There’s lots of happy accidents creating a page and moving paint around.
How do you go about putting a page together and how has that changed over the years?
It’s still basically the same process. I read the script, I make my thumbnail notes. I draw up the page, on paper or art board in pencil, usually 2B and sometimes quite loose, then Ink or paint. After, I scan and clean and check little things I need to highlight or alter. And that’s that. Repeat! The only difference now, is the computer stage. I do need to play more with the computer!
And finally, are you already thinking about what’s coming up next for you here at 2000 AD?
I hope this story proves some kind of worthy mark in the Dredd universe and Michael is ready for more!? I’m certainly itching to step back into the Dredd beast, so depending on my other deadlines on the other work I’m doing, my pencil’s ready!!!! One conversation with Michael and you know he has enough ideas to outlast my capability of getting them all down! There’s hundreds of years of work in his portfolio!!
Thank you so much to Will for talking to us and sending over so much artwork to show you. It was one of those things where the technology and the timing managed to go wrong in every way that they could, yet still Will prevailed and sent things over, just so that you could see them.
Now, seeing as Will took the time and trouble to send us all of these wonderful pieces of process art from Desperadlands part 1 from 2000 AD Prog 2213, Here they are in full size, just so you can all see just how incredible the work here is…