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2000 AD Covers Uncovered – Simon Coleby Brings The Vigilant To Judge Dredd Megazine #421

Every week, 2000 AD brings you the galaxy’s greatest artwork and 2000 AD Covers Uncovered takes you behind-the-scenes with the headline artists responsible for our top cover art – join bloggers Richard Bruton and Pete Wells as they uncover the greatest covers from 2000 AD!

Available to buy now from the 2000 AD web shop and whichever stores are open, Simon Coleby brings us the third part of The Vigilant saga on the cover and inside the pages of Judge Dredd Megazine 421

Yes, the stunning saga of Rebellion’s super-team of classic British comic book characters, The Vigilant, comes to a reality-shattering conclusion in the pages of the Judge Dredd Megazine #421 with a special 22-page finale. And of course, it’s all under a suitably stunning cover to really mark the end of a stunning series.

Simon was good enough to send over his process images that went to make up that cover. We’re incredibly grateful to Simon for getting this over to us as he’s had what could best be described as a rather busy couple of months, both before and in lockdown. It’s a tale of computer breakdowns, beating a new computer until it did what he wanted, and then a surprise lockdown house move – it’s definitely been a busy, busy time for him! Thankfully, all has settled down a little now and we look forward to seeing whatever is next from one of 2000 AD’s finest artists!

Now, here’s the making of that great Vigilant cover… over to Simon…

And so; the cover for the final chapter in The Vigilant’s tale.

The previous two covers showed the team in heroic, dominant poses. This one had to suggest a moment of peril. Perhaps of defeat. It needed to suggest the questions appropriate to a cliffhanger ending. Will they survive? Will they return? Will the Leopard from Lime Street go back to wearing that leopard-print onesie?

The design of the piece was fairly straightforward – a three-tier composition with the mauled team in the foreground, the looming figure of the demon Mazoul in the midground, dominating the image, and the haunted manor house in the background to provide depth and a sense of scale. And also because who doesn’t love drawing gothic, dark, spooky architecture?

To add to the sense of disorder, I decided to go for a tilted angle – in cinema, known as ‘Dutching’. It’s a technique I find very useful to add interest to my panel compositions. The practise originated in German expressionist film-making, largely being used to convey alienation, madness, disorder and all that kind of fun stuff. For some reason, it seems to work well in my art. Make of that what you will.

Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton both use it to great effect in their movies. You can also see it overused to hilariously awful effect in the Scientology disasterpiece ‘Battlefield Earth.

The idea for the drawing was fairly strong and straightforward from the outset, so I didn’t need to do a huge amount of preliminary work. I did a few rough sketchbook thumbnails, just to sort out the balance of the elements, then I put together a marker rough on A4 paper, which I submitted to Keith in the Nerve Centre for approval.

As usual, I drew the pencils for the finished page on A3 typing paper, starting with a rough blue-pencil drawing, and then refining it with fine-liner marker pens.

I scanned the finished pencil work, then printed it in cyan on A3 Bristol board for inking.

The piece was inked using Rotring Art-Pens, Japanese calligraphy markers, Chinagraph pencils and splatters of ink applied from an old bit of kitchen sponge and flicked from a toothbrush.

After all the mucky stuff with ink, I scanned the image back into Photoshop for a final bit of digital polish.

Len’s colours are superb, as always – a restrained yet strong palette. Warm colours emphasise the foreground, with cooler colours around the haunted manor. The flame colours add drama and impact and also help to ‘pop’ the figure of the demon.

So, that’s that one. We bid farewell to this heroic team. I can only hope that the trivial matter of a global pandemic won’t stop this story finding its way into readers’ hands.

Thank you so much to Simon Coleby for sending the art along.

Now, as a bonus to all you lovely readers – another great bit of Coleby Vigilant artwork – something he put up first on his Facebook… – it’s also a little insight into just what a damn trooper Simon was in getting The Vigilant finished and for taking the time to get the images over to us – he’s had a busy, busy time in lockdown!

A couple of days ago I finished the third ‘Vigilant’ story. That was an ‘interesting’ one — a challenging script, then a dead computer. A new computer which turned out not to be up to scratch, so then another machine and all the fun of sorting out compatible software. Then just for extra chuckles, here comes a global pandemic — having to pack up my studio and unexpectedly move house, mid-job. Never a dull moment, eh? Anyway, with my brilliant collaborators, the job was put to bed with a week to spare — all good and everyone’s happy.

So, for a change and just to chill out I thought I’d do some drawing today. A spec thing I’ve been playing with. Not sure if it’ll get used or how, but I’ve been enjoying bunging it together.

I do love calligraphy when I get a chance to incorporate it in my stuff, so this one has some of John Dee’s occult Latin text, rendered in a lovely Arabic style font. Because why not? Anyway, just a thing that I’ve been playing with, not for any particular reason.

He’s also sent along the skull reference piece…

And then, a few days later

I’ve been doing proper work today, but also pretty-much finished mucking about with this spec thing. Just going to bung some colours at it, then call it done.

And finally

So — that piece I was working on for fun a couple of weeks ago. I bunged some colour on it and Tharg’s in-house graphic droids logoed it up.

Yep, like it says – Vigilant – Rapture ends the saga (for now) in Judge Dredd Megazine Issue 421 – out now – get it from the 2000 AD web shop!

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2000 AD Covers Uncovered – SK Moore’s MC-1 under the gaze of Dredd

Every week, 2000 AD brings you the galaxy’s greatest artwork and 2000 AD Covers Uncovered takes you behind-the-scenes with the headline artists responsible for our top cover art – join bloggers Richard Bruton and Pete Wells as they uncover the greatest covers from 2000 AD!

Heading to the 2000 AD webstore and whatever stores are still open, you’re not going to be able to miss 2000 AD Prog 2179 with a stunning cover by SK Moore…

Stewart Kenneth Moore first entered the pages of the Galaxy’s Greatest when he took over the art duties on the last series of Pat Mills’ Defoe: Divisor that began in 2000 AD Prog 2150. His style is full of detail and style and you can find an interview with him talking about his artwork on Defoe: Divisor here. Currently working on his graphic novel, MK-Ultra: Sex, Drugs and the CIA, he took some time to give us this week’s wraparound Dredd cover.

Stewart joins us now to break-down just how the cover was put together, a tale of respirators, masks and a city under a watchful authoritarian glare…

How to Have Ideas Without Getting Any Ideas.
I didn’t have one. I wasn’t looking for one either. But despite a huge effort on the part of my frontal lobes to keep my mind trained on the psychedelic world of 1970’s San Francisco (the setting of my current project) images of Hazmat-suited soldiers emerging from disinfectant clouds repeatedly turned my thoughts to the stories of Judge Dredd. 2020 Wuhan China seemed very Mega-City One.

Respirators and masks were on my mind long before they became mandatory in Prague, where I live. Passing the occasional nightmarish figure in 17th century ‘Plague Doctor’ uniform or glimpsing hooded figures in state-of-the-art military gas helmets in the metro system here was an increasingly common sight. Gallows humour. Everyone’s a social satirist these days. 

Within a few days, we were all in lockdown here and running errands without a mask was illegal. But there was no problem, no panic-buying, the citizens just got on with it like they’d seen it all before. They hadn’t, of course, no they’d seen far worse. Compared to Soviet and Nazi invasions this was nothing.

The image of Dredd with his respirator down while addressing a population that had seen ‘far worse’ flashed through my mind, probably while I did something awful like clean the cat litter tray, who knows, but I laughed. It might have been partially triggered by something a 2000 AD fan said to me on Twitter (How’s that for reverb!). I don’t really know why I laughed but it occurred to me the idea might amuse others too and that it could be a very good thing right now. I realised it might cheer people up, especially fans, to see that in Mega-City 1 it’s business as usual. Beyond that, it reinforces the lockdown message. Hmmm…

Ideas don’t always appear fully formed and when they do I get a bit suspicious of them and doubtful of how I came to have them, ‘where did that come from?’ I wonder. I tend to think I’ve seen it somewhere. So I quickly searched the back issues on the 2000AD website, I found nothing that looked anything like what I imagined. I couldn’t be sure but decided to risk embarrassment by pitching anyway. Pitch and be damned!

The Pitch 
I emailed the idea to Tharg accompanied by a simple rudimentary scribble (see simple rudimentary scribble provided) that I offered to ‘work up’ into a doodle.

I included a drawing of Dredd that I made for the ill-fated 2nd Judge Dredd Gamebook. The scribble was very simplistic so I felt I should show the level of finish I would be aiming for. Tharg’s very own emissary on Earth, Matt Smith, told me to doodle on and, so, doodle on I did.

Yep, that’s a scribble!
And the detail of Dredd by Moore from the 2nd Judge Dredd Gamebook

The Doodle 
I knocked out this doodle with the poor-taste text ‘KEEP CALM AND CARRY HIGH-EXPLOSIVE’ . These words being, of course, a cruel update of the famous WW2 era British motivational posters. I thought it was very funny. So funny in fact that I fell out of my chair and on to the floor. I lay there for some time, doubled over laughing.

At some point, I regained my composure and climbed up into my chair to ‘carry on’. This was of course just place holder text, the words that will actually go on the cover have nothing to do with me. That’s decided in The Nerve Centre. But I do need to show where I would hope any text would be placed. It so happens the art was published without any text and that was the best choice of all. 

I submitted the doodle and that evening I noted a mysterious green glow at my window. At the time I thought it a kind of sign from The Mighty One’s ‘Rosette of Sirius’ or something. Come to think of it, this part of what I’m telling you may be rubbish, so take it with a pinch of salt.  No one drives these days. The traffic lights outside my window are permanently green, maybe that was it. Hell knows. The point is I thought I had the green-light, that’s what I’m saying. I thought I could take this doodle and go ‘NEXT LEVEL’. It’s the thought that counts, right?

The Design
Now cheering you up is an objective, sure, but I need to grab you to do that. Anyone who has stood back and looked at the shelves of WH Smith knows what a piranha-like feeding frenzy that is. Prog 2179 has to crack Woman’s Own right in the staples, head-butt its way through an army of Clarksons, turf Good Housekeeping backwards out an open window and boot Country Living right square in the GQ’s! But how?

If you can see Dredd’s visor at 200 feet, well, chances are Ideal Home will bottle it, Vanity Fair will fold, Heritage Railway will step up or step off. Aye, thought so Heritage Railway. Everybody knows that visor and what it represents, back off! 

Now, if I succeeded and you grabbed 2000AD, that’s good, but my job isn’t done yet, it needs to grab you! With it in your mitts I want you to feel you are at the back of the crowd watching the screen. I want Dredd looking in at you, not the other way around! Yes, It is ‘objectively true’ to say that you are holding the prog, but at some subconscious level you have now also entered Mega-City One and are standing at the very back of the crowd. And just about when your eye begins to study the distant fatty with his wee belly-wheel, I think, it’s fair to say, you’ll have been grabbed!

Now, you might open the issue, or turn it over. If you do the latter, I’m taking your eye deeper and deeper into a vast Mega-City in a desperate effort to hold it there long enough to prompt the store clerk to break the spell and ask ‘You gonna buy that comic ur whit?’ (Translation: ‘Are you considering purchasing this particular publication?’).

The combination of confusion followed by a flush of embarrassment should render you psychologically weakened enough to be highly suggestible to the word ‘buy’ at this point and my work is done here. You don’t work this long on the subject of MKUltra without picking up a few mind-control tricks! 

Cover detail – Moore masking the city

Shut Up and Tell Us How You Did It. 
I took the 2000AD cover template and over-laid my doodle. I then lightened those layers and started to rough out the particulars on a new top layer. That means making a strong Dredd first! I only have his visor to go on, no chin, so nailing the visor ‘intent’ was very important. Although Dredd is depicted on a massive screen the dramatic trick here is to treat it like a goldfish bowl and we are the goldfish and he is looking in and down at us like a giant. Later I had to push Dredd back because the dominance of the black in the helmet threatened to make him appear to be an actual giant and that could be confusing. Am I…repeating myself? Age, jings.
 

With Dredd inked I got on with the citizens. I wanted to build everyone around the wee belly-wheeled ‘Fatty’. Making a large man very small was another way to maximise Dredd. That may have been a lesson learned from Jim Baikie.

Making the small Fatty the big focus on the cover.

Long ago I asked Jim about a tiny dog in one of his Dredd pages. ‘It’s that minimalist thing’ he said. I believe he meant that emphasising something so small can serve to maximise other things, in this case, Dredd. One way or another it amuses the eye.

Stewart sent along this Star Scan –
‘This is the picture I refer to by Jim Baikie. Thanks to Wullie Russell for sourcing it.’

During the day I work on my graphic novel. I start early, around 6am most days. But some days I start at 5am. I worked on this cover in the evenings. I had a long lead time on it so I could potter around at night and take my time. I started work on the city on the back of the cover at the same time as I worked on another cityscape during the day for my book.

One of Moore’s San Francisco cityscapes from Project MKUltra

San Francisco 1971 and the futuristic MC1 are quite different, but they affected one and other. I think my GN page was improved by this back and forth method, as though one image was a testing ground for the other. 

The glorious vista of a Moore MC-1 cityscape

I then scoped out the cavernous interiors of the mega-blocks to heighten the sense of vastness. Finally, I created a final inked drawing of the entire wrap-around scene. My goal with this design is to jump off the shop-shelf at you…oh, I did you say that already…ha ha, you whipper-snappers!

But for those with digital subscriptions, I take it even further. My hope is that digital resolution will be good enough to allow readers to pinch and expand the scene to reveal many more areas. You have to remember that your comic may be A3 on paper but in the digital medium, it is a vast wall-sized fresco, potentially anyway. I have been trying to exploit this side of digital comics for the benefit of readers for years now in Aces Weekly. But I must admit, it is exhausting and I’m not feeling the love. This is an area to be explored, but it may be beyond me to continue in this way much longer…..where was I? 

Oh right, now I set up my rulers. I draw with a tablet and work in Manga Studio (now inexplicably known as ‘Clip, Studio Something’…well, not in my day!). The digital rulers allow you to work faster than you might on paper. But they are a pain in the neck. As much as I love the speed I find them to be maddening and would rather use actual rulers on Bristol board. I like technical drawing. Digital is vital for speed, though, and not having to worry about how or where to buy art materials with all the shops shut nowadays (due to the pandemic) is yet one more unseen advantage of digital art. In the Covid age I never run out of ink!

Detail from the cover – mugshot

The doodle perspective was all by eye. I always find it a bit uncanny when I over-lay the rulers and they all work right away. Doing perspective by eye, without rulers has it’s stylistic advantages. Some artists never use rulers and the organic quality, it seems, keeps the image alive in a way that rulers can kill a picture. The straight line can stiffen art to death.

‘The straight line leads to the downfall of humanity’ – Friedensreich Hundertwasser.

Well, I wouldn’t go that far. So I draw everything…refine, delete, clean up. It’s a balancing act and I try and keep the image a ‘comic’ image and not too ‘real’. This leads to areas looking real and some more like comic characters, I like that mix right now, I think it keeps things alive somehow, unpredictable, amusing. Here and there I might use some photo references, but they also can stiffen the art and I’m often disappointed with the outcomes. So I tend not to. I have found that if I fog out my sketches, make them really really light, almost vanishing, my imagination suggests things in them that are not there and I follow that very often. Strange, I know, but true. Try it. Anyway, I export my inks and open them in Photoshop.

Background details to zoom in on in digital – Peeps of MC-1

To quickly govern colour I pull in my doodle and ‘gaussian blur’ the doodle into a cloud of colours. That creates a ‘colour atmosphere’ that I then place under the inks and workover. The colours I choose are reactions to the colours beneath. I have always painted this way in oils with very colourful under-paintings. It’s a way of doing things. The psychedelic MK page definitely affected this part of my Mega-City. 

More Moore detailed figure work

I paint the details and push and pull and fight and temper things for a long while. I like flat colour in comics but mix things up a bit with some shading and airbrushing here and there. Eventually, I look at the whole image and temper a few final things. In this case, pushing Dredd back a bit so he will sit better under the 2000AD logo. It’s always a good idea to keep checking against the logo that the whole image works to serve the title. 

At the very end, I made some blunders, with so many details I accidentally lost a few things. There was some graffiti and a few other details that I painted over accidentally. There was more gas and darkness on the front cover art. Somehow I mixed things up and lost those layers in the final version and didn’t realise. It realised it didn’t really matter, not a big deal.

I use Dropbox (or other FTP system) to upload final art to Tharg. I then wait in fearful silence. You never know, the work might not pass muster and I might be demolished by Tharg’s Rigelian Hotshots. They move at near light speeds, I understand.

So if Tharg is in Oxford it should only be a matter of seconds for them to strike me down, so, once the moment passes and I’m still quite conscious (and not horribly burned) I feel it’s reasonable to assume the work has most likely been approved for publication. However, if Tharg is in lockdown at his second home on Betelgeuse it could take considerably longer for me to be rent asunder. I’m not sure how many light years away his star system is or how long it would take for Rigelian Hotshots to get to me.

But The Mighty One must be happy with my work because I am still here typing this missive with my faculties intact!

Now THAT was a Covers Uncovered! Thanks to Stewart for going deep onto something that will, no doubt, be up there in the top Prog covers of the year!

2000 AD Prog 2179 is out now – available from stores that are open and from the 2000 AD web store.

You can follow Stewart on Twitter and Instagram for more art, more updates, and more greatness!

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2000 AD Covers Uncovered – Simon Fraser talks Hershey’s surprise cover appearance on Prog 2176

Every week, 2000 AD brings you the galaxy’s greatest artwork and 2000 AD Covers Uncovered takes you behind-the-scenes with the headline artists responsible for our top cover art – join bloggers Richard Bruton and Pete Wells as they uncover the greatest covers from 2000 AD!

This week, we have the stunning cover for Prog 2176. Stunning in a couple of ways. First, it marks the return of Simon Fraser to the cover of the Galaxy’s Greatest. And second, because it’s the surprise return of Chief Judge Hershey!

Yes, in a surprise kept from everyone until the very day of publication of 2000 AD Prog 2175 on 1 April, it was revealed that Chief Judge Hershey didn’t perish from the microbial infection ravaging her body back in the pages of Prog 2150, but instead put in place a plan to right the wrongs she’d inflicted on the world with Judge Smiley.

Hershey getting a load off her mind in deadly fashion on the final cover to Prog 2176

HERSHEY: DISEASE, featuring the surprise return former Chief Judge Hershey, is written by Rob Williams with art by Simon Fraser. It all kicked off in 2000 AD Prog 2175 and continues with the cover feature on Prog 2176 by Simon Fraser.

Death is the longest walk – but for Judge Barbara Hershey, it’s only the first step!

So, here’s the magnificent Simon Fraser to tell us all about the making of a cover in particularly difficult circumstances, in the middle of chaos from the Covid-19 virus and a house move… and as it so often does, it all began with a missive from Tharg’s minion on Earth, editor Matt Smith…

“I was thinking of having a moody shot of Hershey on the cover for episode 2 (I don’t want to do it for episode 1 as that’ll give the game away). Would you be able to fit that in? I could do with having it for early next month.” Sez Matt.

The problem is that I’m in the middle of moving house, from the Bronx across the Hudson River to New Jersey. I’m already fighting to keep on track with the schedule, so adding a cover is going to be ….tricky.

Nevertheless, it’s late at night, I’m surrounded by mountains of cardboard and a very clear idea comes to me. My Scanner is packed so I draw what I think into an old sketchbook and shoot it with my cellphone.

What you staring at punk? I just died, you think I’m in the mood for this?

“I’m in the middle of my move right now. My scanner is packed and most of my computer. This is an idea I just had for a Hershey cover. Just her, looking intense, a bleeding nose, at the centre of the carnage. Kind of Frank Quietly-esque , but with extra grit.” :I sez to Matt.

The pose is an old standby of mine, the 3/4 elevation shot. I used it on one of my Dante covers. It’s pared-down, she’s centred in the frame underscoring her isolation and vulnerability. Her face is a mask of rage and resolution though. This story is Hershey’s story, her journey, it’s important that we see her face and be aware of her emotional state.

From the start of this thing, it’s been important to me that I draw Hershey as a woman in her late 50s, her actual age. I know that Mega-City One has de-ageing tech that can keep someone like Dredd functional well into his 80s, but I feel that there has to be a cost to that. Hershey is physically very strong, still capable, but the years and the responsibility have left a mark. Hershey is an intensely practical person and she’s been in the public eye for a large part of her life as Chief Judge. This story isn’t about that. She’s done with pleasing other people and she’s in quite a bit of pain. This is all written on her face and how she holds herself. The character is now very alive in my head so the drawing comes with very little effort.

I tidy up my photo/scan, pull back a bit from the figure and add in more background carnage, then shift it to blue line…

Blue? Of course I’m bloody blue. You try being me right now creep.

The linework is done in Clip Studio using a ‘Real G-Pen’ nib for the figures and a lighter, less gritty pen for the background detail...

I’m not telling you again. Stop with the staring or you’re next for Hershey’s law.

Now for the first pass at the colour in Photoshop. I could do this in Clip Studio too, but I’m under time pressure and I’m much more familiar with using Photoshop CS5 for colouring…

Colour adds nothing to Hershey’s mood

I’d dropped in a fade to push the background back and pop the figure forwards, but it was at the cost of the chaotic destruction being diminished.

I don’t want it to get too polite and polished, we need the chaos, so I nix the fade...

Fraser, ditch the fade. I want them to know just what taking a bite of Hershey looks like.

There are some problems with scaling on the plane with the various bits of debris, that’s a problem I find with working digitally. It’s easy to lose sight of the whole image as you zoom in too close and obsess about one detail. It’s all too easy to obsessively polish a cover. Turning into some kind of perfect soulless thing.

I don’t want this to look like I’ve inked it with a needle. So the imperfections stay.

The Removal Men are literally at the door and I need to pack up the computer.

Upload to Server. Done!

And that’s that, another stunning Simon Fraser cover, a fabulous image of Hershey for what’s looking like it’s going to be her finest hour.

Thank you to Simon for taking the time to get the cover done and for talking to us. You’ll be happy to hear he’s out of New York and in the relatively quieter and safer environs of New Jersey. We wish him all the best there as he keeps safe and healthy.

2000 AD Prog 2176, featuring that stunning cover and containing part two of Hershey: Disease by Rob Williams and Simon Fraser, is out on 8 April.

We’re still publishing, we’re still getting the Prog out to newsagents and stores where possible. It’s also available from the 2000 AD web shop for those of you across the world who can’t get to a print copy.

And for everyone else, no matter where you are, New York, New Jersey, the USA or here in the UK, keep yourselves safe and well, we know it’s bad right now, but we’ll see it all through. This too shall pass, just keep doing the right thing, keep your social distance, be kind, be good, and wash your hands. We’ll see you again on the other side of this thing.

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2000 AD Covers Uncovered – Phil Winslade talks Lawless for Megazine 418

Every week, 2000 AD brings you the galaxy’s greatest artwork and 2000 AD Covers Uncovered takes you behind-the-scenes with the headline artists responsible for our top cover art – join bloggers Richard Bruton and Pete Wells as they uncover the greatest covers from 2000 AD!

This week we have the welcome return of Phil Winslade to the cover of Judge Dredd Megazine Issue 418, with magnificent Marshal Metta Lawson from Lawless adorning the cover…

The current series of Lawless, Boom Town, is running right now in the Meg, with Lawson having to deal with Badrock’s new status as a free town, a group of annoying overseeing SJS Judges, the return of the even more annoying Brotherly, a Zhind trading party and an awful lot more. For a woman who basically just wanted a quiet life out in the middle of nowhere, Lawson sure attracts trouble!

Megazine 318 is out now in print and digital – just look for Phil Winslade’s beautiful wrap-round cover. Now, over to Phil to take us through the making of the thing, which started, as these things often do, with TMO’s Earthly representative, Matt Smith, getting in touch…

‘Would you be up for doing another Lawless cover? I was thinking of one for part 4, with a grim-looking Lawson trekking through the Badlands. Best, M.’

So I got this email from Matt in December and sort of asked if I could postpone it until the new year as I was halfway through an episode of Lawless and had Christmas coming up and all that sort of thing but my mind would not let me postpone and started working on it overnight. Next morning, I just jotted down some ideas.

Cover Rough part 1 – squiggles aplenty!

Which I fiddled around with on the iPad quickly...

Cover Rough 2 – It’s Metta!

…and refined it a bit…

Cover Rough 3 – Marshal, you’re not gonna do much with that big stick.

…but wasn’t too convinced.

I wanted to produce something more akin to a horror cover as the whole tone of the story has a sort of creeping menace ( cue twanging banjos). At this point, I realised I wanted to set this at night too, I felt that I’d moved from ‘grimly trekking’ to a sort of nervous tension that was dramatic but not in an action but more psychological way. Lawson is surrounded by the unknown, ready to make her last stand- the tension BEFORE the action. I didn’t exactly think this through in this kind of logical way really, it was just a natural flow that started here and moved to here.

I needed to up the drama.

I remembered Ron Embleton’s glorious paintings for the end credits of Captain Scarlet – the way they started with his face straining in anticipation, glaring at the predicament which was revealed by the pull-out. The moment before his inevitable death. I wanted to inject that sort of drama.

Cover Rough 4 – Consider the drama upped!

So I changed the angle so we were looking up at her, she’s braced against the rock, gun primed, ready to spin round and start blasting, her face a mask of tense determination, wide-eyed and desperate. The rocks echoing the diagonal spikes on that spiky wall in the cap scarlet painting, shadowy, menacing figures stalking between them, Lawson braced against the flow of the ragged slabs.

Cover Rough 5 – The Marshal does her best Captain Scarlet impression!
The Ron Embleton Captain Scarlet painting that Phil’s referring to – all that diagonal spikiness!

I refined it a little but I knew that lighting would be a factor if I was going to sell this to Matt. So I crudely blocked it in using halo or rim-lighting- a blue light and a stronger but more angle light that silhouettes the figure and defines details, heightening that gothic horror feel.

Cover Rough 6 – It’s beginning to look a lot like a cover!
Cover Rough 7 – Metta feeling some kind of blue

So I ended up with this…

But then I thought I would blow it up a bit and crop Lawson as an option- just playing really – as I have a predilection for putting the whole figure into a picture which isn’t always the right way to go and it felt a bit more dramatic to focus on Lawson and importantly her face.

I sent both options to Matt, he rightly chose the cropped version. This was all done in a day or so- then I got on with what I was working on and Christmas.

Before Painting, I blew the approved sketch up and put it on a lightbox and really refined the image in pencil on a board (usually I’d do a finished drawing in ink but I was really concerned with the lighting especially on Lawson’s face so went for a more tonal medium to paint over.

And just so you can see what Phil’s talking about – here’s a tight crop of Lawson’s face…

I probably overworked her face but I was going to paint over it anyway. Then I got out the acrylics, girded my loins and took a deep breath.

One of the things, I’ve been trying to do with the Lawless covers is get that sort of pulp ’60s paperback western feel, to get that energy and atmosphere, that sense of light. I’m not sure how successful I’ve been but that is my approach.

I don’t find painting easy. I really enjoy it (well, mostly) and every time I do it, I learn so much, but I find it quite nerve-racking.

I go in with all these great intentions and ideas but, at some point, it all falls apart and I’m left desperately trying to rescue this awful mess and create something at least presentable. I’ve come to expect it and actually sometimes it takes you places you wouldn’t necessarily have wanted to go but get a sense of gratification for going there and getting something unexpected.

It ’s always unpredictable and frustrating, rewarding and humbling- sometimes traumatic, my memory tends to blank out most of the experience.

I kept the palette fairly limited as I wanted the rim lighting to ‘pop’ and spent a lot of time trying to get Lawson’s face how I wanted it. I was very conscious that night scenes print quite dark and can print muddy too so tried to keep the contrasts and the rim light crisp.

After painting it in sunlight, I scanned it and watched the colour values change in unexpected directions and so had to do some editing in photoshop by tweaking the colour levels. I sent it off to Matt, who said he was happy with it.

As is always the way with these things, after spending so much time with it in the painting and the intensity of all the good and bad decisions I made, I can’t really look at what I do with any objectivity for a good long time afterwards. It tends to get better with a little distance. I can see nothing but the faults so hope that I got some of what I was trying to do across to some of the readers.

I think we can all agree – what faults? Nope, we see no faults with that one, none at all!

Out huge thanks to Phil Winslade for that exhaustive look at how the cover was put together – you can find the cover adorning the front (and back) of Judge Dredd Megazine Issue 418, which is out now from all good newsagents and comic book stores, as well as through the 2000 AD webshop and apps!

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2000 AD Covers Uncovered – Dredd Under Fire In The Latest From Jake Lynch

Every week, 2000 AD brings you the galaxy’s greatest artwork and 2000 AD Covers Uncovered takes you behind-the-scenes with the headline artists responsible for our top cover art – join bloggers Richard Bruton and Pete Wells as they uncover the greatest covers from 2000 AD!

This week, with the cover to 2000 AD Prog 2172, it’s a welcome return to Jake Lynch, who gives us a cracking bit of Dredd in action – under fire and in trouble – on 11 March.

Dredd shows us his loathing of the good old exclamation point!

It’s all part of the current Judge Dredd serial, The Relic, with Dredd on the hunt for an off-world perp who’s just in MC-1 to retrieve his ancestral remains.

The first step, as it so often is, involved The Lynch-droid prostrating himself before TMO and begging for the chance to get back on cover duties. Sufficiently satisfied, Tharg passed the quivering Lynch-droid to his Earthly representative Matt Smith, who took a little look-see over the initial rough.

Now, over to Jake Lynch…

So that initial rough was just an idea for Dredd that I submitted to Matt, who liked the concept but suggested some return fire for Dredd to be diving into.

Dredd still has to pass that cycling proficiency test.

That taken on board I first tone up the rough…

Another Lawmaster trashed – oh, you know there’s going to be forms need filling in for that.

…and then tidy and colour, adding the suggestions and re-editing the figure and damage to bike for a little more impact.

And that’s that! A short but sweet look into just how Jake Lynch put that cover together. A big thanks to him for that, and you’ll be able to see the cover out there in the wild on 11 March.

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2000 AD Covers Uncovered: Jimmy Broxton Talks Skip Tracer

Every week, 2000 AD brings you the galaxy’s greatest artwork and 2000 AD Covers Uncovered takes you behind-the-scenes with the headline artists responsible for our top cover art – join bloggers Richard Bruton and Pete Wells as they uncover the greatest covers from 2000 AD!

This week, it’s time to look at the fabulous cover for 2000 AD Prog 2171, out right now, and featuring the return of Skip Tracer. And we’ve got cover artist Jimmy Broxton giving us a wonderfully in-depth tale of putting the cover together…

So, without any further ado, over to Jimmy Broxton…

I rarely do covers, and I approach them slightly differently to my interior storytelling pages. I’ll experiment with different styles and media, I sometimes have a prose book cover, or movie poster aesthetic in mind, not just a pin-up style piece of comic art with a logo slapped on it (not that there’s anything wrong with those sorts of covers, they can work a treat). This piece was no exception, fortunately, 2000 AD likes to do things differently as well, so when Matt asked me to do a cover for the prog featuring Skip Tracer, I jumped at the chance.

Matt’s brief was simple, ‘I thought maybe you could do the cover as a pulp neo-noir pastiche. Bit Blade Runner in tone.’

SOLD! Say no more, that was all I needed to hear, I’m already there, as that is so far up my neon-lit, rain-drenched alley that I can taste the raindrops, and the cover now exists fully formed in my mind, all that’s required is that I do justice to the vision in my head (almost never happens, but hey, we have to keep trying). And more importantly, the request from Matt, doing a cover is a big deal for me, so I want to get it right.

My typical working relationship with the mighty Tharg is an unusual one I think. Basically I’m sent a script, and I send back finished art, I rarely do roughs or layouts for myself, preferring instead to go straight to final art. So, no prelims, roughs, pencils or layouts usually exist, unless I’m running close to deadline, in which case I’ll provide (if requested) very basic roughs in order to allow the lettering to be done. This straight to art process usually works fine, with only very occasional requests for alterations or changes, it’s never to do with the interpretation of the script, more likely a question of content, and going a little ‘too far’, even for 2000 AD! More on that later.

(Initial pencil sketch)

Covers are different and need to be planned and balanced with other Progs, so I go through the proper approval process for a change! I produced a small pencil sketch (for my eyes only, well, until now), not much more than a stick figure doodle, but that was enough to satisfy me that it would work compositionally.

It wouldn’t, however, be enough to satisfy Tharg, he would need to see something a little more polished, something befitting a mighty editor’s inbox, rather than the inside of a school desk, where my woeful scribble belongs.

To that end, I digitally painted a rough of the cover, and dropped it into a cover template, with logo and publishing/pricing info. Very crude, but hopefully enough to sell the idea, it was more to suggest the colour values and the atmosphere I was trying to achieve, with no specific details on display. I brazenly submitted only one such rough, and Tharg the benevolent (it would seem) as well as mighty, approved it.

(Colour cover rough)

Now I had to draw it properly!

It’s worth noting at this point that, although that colour rough was created 100% digitally, I do in fact create all of my art the old fashioned way, with pens, pencils, brushes etc, on actual paper! Some digital compositing takes place, and the colours and special effects are done on screen, but the line art is real. I’ve yet to find a digital application that effectively replaces or improves upon actual wet ink on paper, with all of the multitude of variances and organic/analogue ‘accidents” that can contribute to a finished piece. Just call me ‘partially old fashioned.’

With a single point perspective composition like this, and with the figure front and centre, that figure, and especially the face and expression is key, so I drew the head separately, much larger than the body…

(Skip Tracer up close and personal)

This allowed me to focus on his expression and work out the lighting patterns – as I was planning multiple light sources the shadow work had to be very solid.

Once confident the sketch was working, I proceeded to final inks for the head…

(Final inks for Skip Tracer’s head-shot)

The body was then created as a second stand-alone piece of artwork, all to be ‘comped’ together later on screen.

With the figure complete, I could then tackle the background without worrying about figure placement too much. I created the entire street scene, with no hole or gap for Skip Tracer, I could add him anywhere at my digital leisure later (friendly advice, watch out for digital leisure, spend too much time with that and you’ll get no work done!)

I drew the scene, in ‘positive’ mode, which is to say, all the black and ‘shadowy’ bits.

(A truly beautiful b&w scene – you can feel the rain on your face as you look at it)

I also produced a second drawing, where I inked all of the negative or ‘shining’ bits (technical term), lights, reflections, signs etc, this way I could create those effects with an analogue organic /vibe, to hopefully achieve a hand-painted, ‘none CGI’ final result…

(And the second part of the street scene,
something perfectly near-abstract looking at it this way)

With all the linework done, everything was scanned at hi-res (600dpi, thanks for asking), I then ‘comped’ the figure together by combining the head and body, and added the basic colours. At this stage, the scanned line art of the ‘negative’ elements were kept aside.

(Putting a Skip Tracer together, head and body joined at last!)

Referring to my original colour rough, I very roughly digitally ‘hand-painted’ the background in various layers over the black and white line art…

The colour render, minus inks, shows just how free-flowing and impressionistic the colours are…

The pre-coloured figure was pasted into position to complete the scene. I also added a flying car, as nothing screams ‘this is the bloody future’ like a flying car. The final image, will hopefully be greater than the sum of its parts, no single element stands alone, and the composition does not really succeed until all the separate elements are pasted into position, not unlike traditional 2D animation cells from years ago (hey, I said I was old fashioned.)

(Skip Tracer, meet your background!)

Finishing touches were then added, glowing lights, smoke, steam, extra lighting effects (including my inked ‘negative’ elements, now layered as highlights), typographic elements and signs (more on those presently) and finally a few extra layers of weather, rain, puddles and reflections.

At this stage, just for the fun of it, I created a ‘back cover’ version, the same image, just completed minus the figure…

(The back cover version, as Skip Tracer steps out of shot)

The completed, flattened and print prepped file was set to Tharg for approval. Job done, well almost…

(The X rated final cover version – Skip Tracer walking through neo-Soho)

In my eagerness to give the image an authentic neo-noir, neon-drenched feel, I had strayed perhaps too far into the red light district of Skip Tracer’s world. ‘Live XXX’ and ‘XXX Nude’, in bold signage, might give the wrong impression of the contents of a magazine to be displayed prominently on a WH Smith shelf. Something ‘less saucy’ was requested and I thought it best not to suggest we simply go with it as is and poly-bag the Prog as a give-away with ‘Big and Bouncy’ magazine. I very wisely complied with Tharg’s request to tone down the sleaze (well, there had to be a first time!) The signs were changed, the ‘XXX ALL NUDE’ delights previously offered replaced by noodles (hey, even a pervert’s got to eat!) and that version is the final approved cover of the prog that will hit the stands any day now.

(The final version – exactly the ‘pulp neo-noir pastiche’ that Tharg was after)

A huge thank you to Jimmy Broxton for an incredible breakdown of just what goes into making a cover. And what a cover it is. Go look for 2000 AD Prog 2171 on the racks of your local newsagent or comic shop right now!

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2000 AD Covers Uncovered: Get On Yer Bike, Dredd – It’s Regened Time!

Every week, 2000 AD brings you the galaxy’s greatest artwork and 2000 AD Covers Uncovered takes you behind-the-scenes with the headline artists responsible for our top cover art – join bloggers Richard Bruton and Pete Wells as they uncover the greatest covers from 2000 AD!

This week, it’s the first of four awesome all-ages Regened Progs for this year, where the pages of the Galaxy’s Greatest get taken over by Tharg’s nephew Joko-Jargo and we get to see some wonderfully different all-ages strips featuring both familiar faces and new strips.

And the cover for Prog 2170 comes from the pen of the hugely talented Mark Sexton…

Sexton’s got more than two decades of comics and film work under his belt right now, but he sure does love coming back to 2000 AD. His resume includes storyboards for Alex Proyas’ cult classic, Dark City (1996), and work on, amongst many more, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Mad Max Fury Road, Black Panther, and Happy Feet.

He looks a little like this…

For comics, he was responsible for bringing Mad Max to comics as writer and artist on the DC/Vertigo Mad Max: Fury Road series. And for Tharg, he’s been responsible for a number of strips, including Judge Dredd: Ghosts and The Long Game (with Michael Carroll), Sinister Dexter (with Dan Abnett). And now he’s back on cover duties.

And, as is so often the case, it all started with another job unexpectedly disappearing… over to Mark…

It was all a case of being in the right place at the right time… I had been working on storyboards for an upcoming film when the dreaded word came through from on high that the studio was shutting the project down. Usually, I work on film but I absolutely love doing whatever I can for the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic; it’s been a dream of mine since childhood.

So whenever the opportunity arises, I annoy Tharg’s earthly minion Matt-1 with enthusiastic yet plaintive queries as to whether there might be something I could help out with.

In this case and in a desperate attempt to get rid of me, Matt-1 offered up the cover for the next upcoming Regened issue. In keeping with the theme, he suggested Cadet Dredd on the Lawmaster, and hastily left me to get on with it.

After the usual procrastination and stuffing around (and a polite email from Matt-1 asking whether there might have been any progress on the cover), I finally turned in a couple of rough covers. Working off the previous Regened covers, featuring iconic imagery of 2000AD characters against an almost featureless background, I went for a matching simplicity.

(We had to make do with Choppers when I was a lad – bloody Cadets, don’t know they’re born!)

And because, for some reason, I have a thing about putting characters in a spotlight, I went for a black background too, which I rather liked and thought was potentially eye-catching…

(That’s Dredd in the spotlight… Michael Stipe’s rejected first go at Losing My Religion)

Tharg and/or Matt-1, in their collective wisdom, immediately nixed the spotlight version, which goes to show why they’re the editors of the Galaxy’s Greatest and I am not. And a good thing it is too, I’d make terrible choices.

Because I work digitally, I pretty much go straight from rough to inks, developing the linework piece by piece, detail by detail. Probably too much detail really!

There was lots of fiddling with the scale of Dredd on the Lawmaster. The rough ended up feeling as though Dredd was too large against the bike, and as the image is supposed to be of Dredd as a cadet, it felt necessary to make him smaller and thinner. His head got a little larger in comparison, and of course, there’s always fun to be had riffing on the early Ezquerra/McMahon/Gibson uniform with its more rounded pads and helmet.

(No perp, you cannot get a backie with Dredd)

Speaking of which, this is the original Mark 1 Lawmaster, which I recall was featured in a brilliant futuregraph on the back of an early prog – an early version, before it was issued with the classic bike cannons mounted on either side of the front wheel. I checked this with Matt-1 as I didn’t want to get digitally burnt in effigy for getting it wrong; however I’m sure I got something else wrong, so I’m looking forward to doing my best Guy Fawkes impression when the Prog comes out… 

But I got to draw the classic Lawmaster for the prog. Huzzah!

I’m not a natural colourist – I think I’m a bit literal really when it comes to using a colour palette – but I figured I could get away with this one. I tend to draw my images so that they work in black and white as well as colour, so this didn’t feel like there was too much up for interpretation.

(The classic Mark 1 Lawmaster and rider, Mr Sexton invites you all to check carefully for errors)

Still, I’m soooooo slow when it comes to colour, it takes me ages – I’m positive all those professional colourists out there could smash an image like this in a very short space of time and still make it look a thousand times better than I did!

Having said that, there’s always something magical about adding colour to an image, and it is fun. But I think next time I’ll leave it to the professionals!

All in all, this was a fun cover to do. Revisiting the old Dredd uniform and Lawmaster is always fun, and trying to make the image simple yet strong is a great challenge. Hopefully it worked!

Note to self: next time, check with Matt-1 whether we’re using a different logo – I worked off the current 2000AD logo and cover layout in composing this image, but only remembered that the Regened logo is a throwback to the original 2000AD logo once I saw this image in the promotional lead-up to its release. I hope it still works compositionally! I can just picture the design droids in the Nerve Centre abusing me roundly for mucking up their layout…

A last thought – I’d love to do more work for 2000AD, it’s always a pleasure to work on Dredd – even if he’s so complicated to draw! But hopefully I can start to loosen up in my artwork with the next story and try to get a little more dynamism into the art. There are so many brilliant artists producing stunning artwork for 2000AD, and there’s so much I see in their work that I’d like to try myself and change things up. Fingers crossed that Matt-1 doesn’t immediately delete my next enthusiastic yet plaintive missive.

It’s just occurred to me that the prog with this cover comes out only two days after my “birthday of temporal importance”, so that’s a nice little extra birthday gift. Almost like it was meant to be. Cheers Tharg!

Thanks so much to Mark for the great write-up!

You take a look at Pete Wells’ Covers Uncovered for Mark’s Prog 1973 cover , which looked like this…

And this Dredd for issue 26 of the Judge Dredd series from IDW:

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2000 AD Covers Uncovered – It’s Pantemonium in Zaucer Of Zilk

Every week, 2000 AD brings you the galaxy’s greatest artwork and 2000 AD Covers Uncovered takes you behind-the-scenes with the headline artists responsible for our top cover art – join bloggers Richard Bruton and Pete Wells as they uncover the greatest covers from 2000 AD!

2000 AD Prog 2167 is out of the stands right now with a spectacular Zaucer of Zilk cover by Brendan McCarthy and Len O’Grady…

Co-written, drawn and co-coloured by Brendan with writer Peter Hogan and colourist Len O’Grady, the second series of the Zaucer of Zilk: A Zaucerful of Zecrets continues in the pages of the Prog – It’s every bit the phantasmagorical psychedelic extravaganza we’ve come to expect from the strip and Brendan and Len took a little time to fill us in on the making of a cover full of trouser trouble for the Zaucer!

As Brendan tells us, everything started with him planning a cover featuring Zaucer and a Fancy Pants riding T’Tooth facing off…

I wanted a cover that showed a bit of magical energy, and with the Fancy Pants and Zaucer in conflict.

Which led to this, Brendan’s first cover rough…

Cover rough – Liar Liar…

After that, he went through the usual pencils and inks stages before sending the final b&w version off to Len O’Grady, his colourist collaborator…

Brendan’s final b&w cover – pants on fire

Now, over to Len O’Grady for a more in-depth look at the nuts and bolts required to get things together…

I got Brendan’s b&w cover and what struck me most was the sparseness of the composition; early on in the first run of Zaucer of Silk, Brendan had mentioned how the movie Yellow Submarine was big touchstone for the comic, and so for this one, my head went straight to the Jeremy Hillary Boob: The Nowhere Man and the Sea of Holes. I’d also rewatched THX 1138, and loved the screaming whiteness of the detention area in that movie, so seeing those floating figures brought it all together in my mind’s eye.

I’d used a dotted texture on Zaucer before to give a sense of depth in a floating space, and a touch of texture, so layered those behind the figures- I find it can give a bit of definition, especially when everything gets soft and supersaturated. My palette was a bit softer, but more stark against a white field.

Len O’Grady’s first colour cover version – the pills begin to kick in

Zaucer tends to turn into a bit of a sprawl (fifty layers is not unusual) as I try various fx, layering, masking, filters and the like, regularly going over the 1.5GB mark once opened, so I’ll condense everything down a bit and save that “final” copy.

This art went to Brendan in floating but condensed layers, to make things a bit easier for him to modify it- in the end it’s his baby, I just get to play with it- at this point we’re up to about 80% simpatico, and that’s a good level I think- it leaves room for surprise.

Anyway, I handed it back to Brendan and I’d like to think he opened up the cover and had a double-takehe’s incredibly generous and always encouraging me to let rip and see where I go with the colour.

Then a few days later he replies with where he sees it going, and that’s my favourite bit. By the end, this cover was probably the most divergent we’ve gotten, which makes it unusual.

Now back to Brendan again…

Len’s colours had the basic lighting dynamic down but I thought I could ‘remix’ it and push the colours further. It went through a radical background change but keeps most of Len’s lighting etc, but I sprinkled some glam rock fx over it.

All of which results in the next colour version, courtesy of both Brendan & Len…

Zaucer of Zilk – who else looks at this and hears some psych version of Boogie Wonderland?

Which eventually, with some more of that McCarthy glam rock fx, transforms into the final cover version…

The final version – Boogie Wonderland on acid, remixed with hard house, electro, and utter madness!

Thanks to both Brendan McCarthy and Len O’Grady for drawing back the veil on the creation of the latest perfectly psychedelic in every way adventures of the Zaucer of Zilk.

2000 AD Prog 2167 is out now!

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2000 AD Covers Uncovered – Last Rites For The Zombie Army

Every week, 2000 AD brings you the galaxy’s greatest artwork and 2000 AD Covers Uncovered takes you behind-the-scenes with the headline artists responsible for our top cover art – join bloggers Richard Bruton and Pete Wells as they uncover the greatest covers from 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine!

Judge Dredd Megazine #416 is out this week with the first episode of new series Zombie Army: Last Rites iZombie writer Chris Roberson and Italian artist Andrea Mutti (Infinite Dark). Richard Bruton chatted to Andrea Mutti about his cover marking the start of the five-part series.

Written by Chris Roberson (iZombie) and drawn by Mutti, it’s full-on zombie war-time action and adventure down in Southern France, all under Mutti’s cover…

He starts by telling us that this was one of those cover images that, unusually, came really quickly…

Preparing for a cover is, for me, the most complex phase of a book … summarizing a story in a single image while maintaining its tension and atmosphere, is always a bit complicated! In the case of Zombie Army, however, it was almost immediate!

I didn’t know I had to do the cover too, but during the processing of the pages I had an idea of a possible cover that, yes, was very close to the ideas that Matt Smith suggested to me (great editor that I really thank for the wonderful opportunity!)

These are those extraordinary coincidences that make me love my job, those strange chemicals that arise spontaneously when you share a passion!


The first step for a cover is to create a quick layout that summarizes the basic concept. Once the procedure has been approved, I set about the pencil version that can be more or less detailed.

In this case, realizing that I’d be painting with watercolours, I looked for a fresher approach, I didn’t want to weigh down things with overly charged inks and with too many details that, once everything was painted with watercolour, would have been too dense and would have suffocated the colour.

(Next step… fleshing out the cover details)

With this in mind, I ended up painting the pencils and added black and ink details in a second step. The result, I must say, seemed immediately effective and I then added some details directly with the colours.

(Derriere toi! Les zombies sont derriere toi!)

I also wanted to get a palette with few colours, I didn’t want a colourful patchwork as it’s still a horror story and I don’t particularly like too colourful illustration. Observing reality, light tends to blend many of the colours, giving a sense of homogeneity and density to real life, making it very balanced. And that’s something I really tried to achieve here.

Hopefully, all is well. The cover is what you see, and thankfully hasn’t come out too dark in the printing phase, something I always fear!

No, not too dark at all. A cover that really sells the new strip and one Andrea can be proud of. As always, thanks to Andrea for taking the time to take us through his cover. Now, grab your guns, it’s zombie killin’ time boys and girls!

Judge Dredd Megazine Issue 416 is out now!

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2000 AD Covers Uncovered – The Editor Cometh…

2000 AD Covers Uncovered - The Editor Cometh...

Welcome once more to 2000 AD Covers Uncovered, where we get the art droids to spill the beans over the trials and tribulations of what goes into making the covers of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic so very special…

Pete Wells started it all off and now, with Pete’s blessing, we’re carrying it all on. 

This time, it’s time for Rob Davis talking us through the latest appearance of the Mighty Tharg on the cover… It’s 2000 AD Covers Uncovered, it’s Prog 2159 (out on 27 November)… time to bow down once more before the Thrill Power delivered by Tharg!

PROG 2159 Cover
(Tharg see all – Including just what you’re doing right now!)

Hopefully you all know Rob’s name already, given that he’s the author of the frankly incredible Motherless Oven trilogy, with the thid and final volume, The Book Of Forks, out right now from SelfMadeHero. It’s one of the best graphic novels of the year… do yourself a favour and check it out!

Now, here’s Rob Davis to take us through the latest cover for 2000 AD and the latest appearance of the Galaxy’s Greatest editor…

Matt [Smith – Tharg’s earthly representative] asked me to do a cover a couple of years ago for Counterfeit Girl and it was a lot of fun. It had been 20 years since I did anything 2000 AD related, but I really enjoyed doing it.

This autumn when I finally finished my trilogy of books for SelfMadeHero (The Motherless Oven, The Can Opener’s Daughter and The Book of Forks) I sent Matt an email asking if he had anything else for me. My timing was good because he had a cover that was looking for an artist and he offered it to me. He said he wanted Tharg on it.

Well, I’m of the generation whose first experience of 2000 AD was the 1977 TV advert with Tharg ordering us kids to buy his new comic (which we did!), so drawing him for the cover 42 years later sounded pretty cool.

I had a look through the archives and realised that there have been a lot of Tharg covers and most of the good ideas have been done, so I settled on a kind of montage of great thrills from the past cast like shadows in his cavernous imagination and Tharg the Mighty glittering like a jewel in the centre. I think I probably got as much out of the colour and form as I did the theme in the end.

In terms of roughs, I produced countless scribbles on scraps of paper looking for a simple composition that felt like a Tharg cover. I wanted him to look imperious, alien and mysterious, but really I think it brought the 2000 AD fan out in me and I enjoyed getting as many Thrills in as I could. It probably dates me how many of the characters I drew go back to the early years of the comic.

I sent this digital rough over to Matt. He said he liked it and was happy for me to draw it up…

Tharg 2000 AD cover - without text
(Tharg 2000 AD cover rough – Look on my Works, says Tharg The Mighty!)

Next in the preparation of the cover.. pencils…

I pencil my art on a wacom tablet in photoshop. I prioritise getting everything in the right place: the compositional elements, the blacks, the proportions, and the attitude etc. The line you end up with is a bit ugly drawn in photoshop, but that prevents me suffering the misery of the thumbnails or pencils looking better than the final inks. This is a perennial problem for comic artists who often find that the life they had in their initial thumbnail sketch can never be recreated in the final art.

Tharg 2000 AD cover - outlines
(Pencils for the cover – here’s looking at you, Tharg)

And now to inking the thing…

I print out a blue line of the wacom pencils scaled up to A3 on Bristol board and then ink with a brush and indian ink or Pentel Brush pen. I try to inject some life into the inks if I can and also try to avoid too many unnecessary idiosyncrasies if possible. 

I was quite happy with Tharg’s head because it has a decent mix of figurative and abstract.

On one hand it looks like an interesting jigsaw of abstract 2D shapes on the other it looks like I’ve rendered the 3D form of the head. I always admire artists who find that line between those two approaches and that’s what I was aiming for there.

Tharg 2000 AD cover - outlines closeup on Tharg
(Oh, crack a smile, Tharg!)

The next stage… adding in the colours

To make Tharg pop I used his spectrum opposite (violet) as the background. I also dropped the tone and saturation on the background. Hopefully when it’s printed the familiar characters in the background won’t be immediately obvious, but will emerge, like childhood hallucinations in a dark room.

Well, that was the idea anyway.

The finished cover - without text
(The finished product… Tharg casts his discerning eye)

Thank you so much to Rob Davis for talking us through the latest appearance of the Mighty Tharg on the cover of his comic. We think Tharg will be pleased.

We heartily recommend you follow Rob Davis on Twitter here.

Now… here’s that Counterfeit Girl cover for Prog 2008 that Rob was talking about…

Counterfeit Girl cover for Prog 2008

And a few more of the appearances of the great and mighty Tharg from the past..

Dave Gibbons - Prog 127 Cover
Dave Gibbons – Prog 127…
Robin Smith - Prog 283 Cover
Robin Smith – Prog 283…
Kev Walker - Prog 1313 Cover
Kev Walker – Prog 1313…
John Higgins - Prog 1919 Cover
John Higgins – Prog 1919… 
Dylan Teague - Prog 2111 Cover
Dylan Teague – Prog 2111…