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Interview: Talking Judge Dredd: Desperadlands With Michael Carroll

Beginning in 2000 AD Prog 2213, out 6 January, we’re kicking off the New Year in fine style with a brand-new Judge Dredd adventure written by Michael Carroll – Desperadlands.

But the big news is that it features the return of Will Simpson to 2000 AD with his first interior artwork in the Prog since 2001 – and it looks every bit as gorgeous as you’d expect! Look for it inside Prog 2213, out right now!

We were going to chat to Michael and Will together about the strip, but Will sent over so many wonderful images means we’ve already shown you Will’s artwork (right here) and now we’ve got the chance to speak to writer Michael Carroll.

Desperadlands brings us back to the land of crime and lawlessness that is Ciudad Barranquilla, Banana City, the South American Mega-City where the Judges are more corrupt than the gangs. Dredd’s been here before on Simpson’s watch, with the lawman going undercover in the Banana City storyline. This time, Dredd is here in full uniform, investigating a mystery with connections to the Justice Department. I could tell you more, but let’s leave that to Michael Carroll…

Okay Mike, in 2000 AD Prog 2213 we have the beginning of a new Judge Dredd series, Desperadlands. And it’s a bit special as it’s the first time we’ve seen a certain Mr William Simpson on the inside of the Prog since June 2001, nearly two decades ago!

So, what can you tell us about what to expect from Desperadlands?

Michael Carroll: It’s a four-part adventure that takes Dredd back to South America. Initially, we discussed the idea of a direct sequel to the Banana City storyline from 2000 AD prog 623, in which Dredd tracks rogue MC1 Judge Barry Kurten to Ciudad Barranquilla, where he’s joined that city’s corrupt Justice Department. Problem with that is that time passes in Dredd’s world at the same rate it does for us… and that was thirty-one years ago.

So instead Desperadlands is a new tale mostly set on the far outskirts of the region governed by Ciudad Barranquilla rather than in the heart of the city itself. It also brings Dredd back into contact with former Judge Doya Meekins. I introduced her in the very first Dredd strip I ever wrote, Blood Culture (However, that wasn’t my first published Dredd: that was Salvage which appeared in Prog 1715… exactly ten years before the first episode of Desperadlands appears.)

In the first episode Dredd and Meekins are called in when a body is found in the middle of a field in South America, and evidence reveals a connection with Syan Hegedos, a former MC1 Judge who’s on the Department of Justice’s most-wanted list for reasons that are revealed in the second episode – so I won’t spoil them here!

We’re in the lawless world of Ciudad Barranquilla here, so many opportunities to compare and contrast the world of MC-1 and BC. And again, Mike, you do seem to enjoy exploring the entire world of Dredd.

MC: I do! Every writer and artist who’s worked on the strip has contributed to a very rich tapestry of fascinating sandboxes full of gardens of earthly (and sometimes unearthly) delights. In fact, it’s such a rich and inventive tapestry that very often great ideas have been introduced to serve a specific story, and then afterwards mostly – if not completely – ignored. Aside from Banana City itself, Desperadlands also explores another of those very striking elements that’s rarely been revisited even though it’s potentially hugely rewarding, story-wise.

What’s so appealing about taking Dredd out of familiar surroundings?

MC: If you want to show the heart of a character you have to strip away all their trappings, peel them back to the very core (which is something that I actually did literally in a one-off tale called The Carousel a few years ago).

I’ve often felt that Dredd is at his best when he doesn’t have his support network backing him up, when he doesn’t have hundreds of other Judges and the considerable resources of the Department of Justice at his beck and call. So one easy way to accomplish that is to take him out of the city. Plus there’s that well-populated sandbox just sitting there… why would we confine ourselves to just the tiny corner represented by Mega-City One when we’ve so much more room for adventure out there?

That applies not just to physical locations, but to characters and social situations, too, and it’s one of the things I love about the world of Judge Dredd: it’s big enough and varied enough that we don’t have to restrict ourselves to a “Crime/Perp/Monster of the Week” formula… and even if we do choose to follow that sort of path, the very nature of the Judge Dredd strip means that our weekly crime or perp or monster is going to be very different to that of any other comic.

Do you have any big plans for this one, or is it a nice Dredd gets out of MC-1 adventure?

MC: Well, time will tell, but fingers crossed it’ll be a bit of both! As it stands, this one is loosely connected to some of the tales I’ve already written – it’s another chapter in Doya Meekins’ story, for example – plus of course it also glances back in the direction of the Banana City storyline… but we’ve been careful to make sure that new readers don’t need to have read those ones. That’s something that’s always at the back of my mind: don’t scare away the new readers! Every episode of every story should leave brand-new readers thinking, “OK, I didn’t quite get all of what’s just happened in this story, but I like it enough to read more.”

We’ve also planted a couple of tiny story-seeds in Desperadlands that with a bit of luck will get a chance to grow into something big and fruitful down the road. I certainly hope so! Working with Will Simpson has been fantastic. I first met him back in the late 1980s – around the time Banana City was published – when he was a guest at an event in Dublin run by the Irish Science Fiction Association, and I was hugely inspired by his dedication as well as his skills. I’ve wanted to work with him ever since. So… that’s a pretty hefty career-goal ticked for me!

And finally, what can we expect you in the future?

MC: I’ve got another Judge Dredd two-parter on the way, plus a few things that too early in development to talk about right now. There’s also Dreadnoughts currently running in the Judge Dredd Megazine, and I’ve delivered the second series. The second Proteus Vex series, The Shadow Chancellor, is currently in the prog, plus there are two new Regened stories coming soon that I’m pretty excited about: Action Pact and Mayflies. I delivered my third Judges novel six months ago, so that should be along soon, too, plus I’m still the series’ editor, which has often been a huge amount of work… but always very rewarding!

Thank you to Mike for talking to us and giving us this look inside just a little of what to expect from Desperadlands. I think you can agree, just from the art up here, that we’re all in agreement with Mike that it’s a great thing to see Will Simpson back in the Prog, but it’s also great to bring in 2021 with Mike back writing Dredd!

You can get hold of Desperadlands Part One in 2000 AD Prog 2213, out on 6 January and available from the 2000 AD web shop.

Now, for a little bonus, a little look back at some of Simpson’s previous Judge Dredd work… first from Banana City in Progs 623-625.

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Interview: welcoming back Will Simpson with Judge Dredd: Desperadlands

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…

The finished Will Simpson art from Desperadlands part one, 2000 AD Prog 2213.

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! 

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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! 

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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. 

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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! 

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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…

Will Simpson – Judge Dredd: Desperadlands – part 1, page 1 from 2000 AD Prog 2213 – early colours
Will Simpson – Judge Dredd: Desperadlands – part 1, page 1 from 2000 AD Prog 2213 – later colours
Will Simpson – Judge Dredd: Desperadlands – part 1, page 2 from 2000 AD Prog 2213 – pencil and pen
Will Simpson – Judge Dredd: Desperadlands – part 1, page 2 from 2000 AD Prog 2213 – colours
Will Simpson – Judge Dredd: Desperadlands – part 1, page 3 from 2000 AD Prog 2213 – pencils
Will Simpson – Judge Dredd: Desperadlands – part 1, page 2 from 2000 AD Prog 2213 – colours
Will Simpson – Judge Dredd: Desperadlands – part 1, page 6 from 2000 AD Prog 2213 – pencils
Will Simpson – Judge Dredd: Desperadlands – part 1, page 6 from 2000 AD Prog 2213 – the ‘ink-splattered’ version
Will Simpson – Judge Dredd: Desperadlands – part 1, page 6 from 2000 AD Prog 2213 – those final wonderful colours!
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Interview – The Misty Special 2020 – It’s Christmaaaaaassss… Talking Home For Christmas With Lizzie Boyle.

Time to send a special winter-time chill down your spine, dear readers, as we present to you the new Misty Winter Special, which is out now!

Inside, there’s two tales to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up – one of which finds creators Anna Savory (Tales from the Satanic Library) & V.V. Glass (Doctor Who), tell a tale of ‘Infection‘, about how far people are expected to conform to societal standards no matter how warped the rules become! But here, we’re catching up with the writer of the second tale, Lizzie Boyle. Along with artist David Roach, she’s spinning us a seasonal treat with Home for Christmas, where a ghostly home-invasion reveals dreaded sins of the past!

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The Misty Winter Special – cover by Simon Davis

Misty was published weekly from 1978 to 1980, aimed at young girls and aiming to give them a more off-beat, more chilling, more frightening and supernatural read. Mind you, in those old days of ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ comics, if there was one comic your brother would steal from you – it was definitely Misty! Inside, the tales were full of ghostly goings-on, but it was the more subtle, psychological chillers that really marked Misty out as something special, the sort of strips that would haunt your thoughts, your nightmares eve, for days after.

And it’s this sense of having that spectacular spookiness, that sense of thrilling scares that has carried on through the new stories in the Misty & Scream Specials we’ve published, and continues here in this new Misty Winter Special.

Now, time to chat to Lizzie Boyle about the fun to be had with a great Christmas chiller as we go ‘Home For Christmas’.

Lizzie, hello – first things first, can you tell us a little of what to expect with the strip – obviously it’s a Christmas tale, but I’m guessing it’s not something that’s going to get adapted for a Hallmark channel Christmas movie anytime soon?

Lizzie Boyle: It’s a gentle tale of family life at the most wonderful time of the year… OK, you’re right, it’s low on the schmaltz and high on the shivers. And perhaps a cautionary tale about opening your presents early.

I’m thinking it’s something that’s going to be right there in the tone of Misty of old, giving readers old and young a good chill down the spine?

LB: Absolutely. We wanted to capture the spirit of Misty, which harks back to writers like M.R. James – weird happenings in remote country houses – but also something more up-to-date for today’s readers, with just the right amount of creeping terror thrown in.

How did ‘Home For Christmas’ come about?

LB: Keith Richardson, editor extraordinaire, asked for story ideas. He’s great – he always has a tone in mind that he’d like to achieve and an understanding of the balance of stories across all the Rebellion titles, both new and reprints. So you don’t waste time pitching ideas that are likely to replicate something that’s being printed somewhere else, you can just focus on creating a unique idea that will fit within the overall book. It’s also great that Keith trusts me to write across multiple genres: I’ve been the writer on the Gums stories in the recent Cor! Buster anthologies, so it’s great to stretch your wings away from comedy sharks and into something a little more disturbing.

When it comes to comics like Misty, would you agree that there’s something inherently scarier in the psychological horrors these strips for younger readers portrayed than there ever were in the out and out horror comics for grown-ups?

LB: Absolutely! I had the honour of editing the Tammy & Jinty Special for Rebellion a couple of years ago and that gave me the chance to dig into the archives of the various titles that Rebellion now own. There’s a real thread of characters being haunted, controlled or otherwise psychologically manipulated either by evil, scheming adults or by everyday items like mirrors, jewellery, hairbrushes or even sunglasses. A lot of the stories are about how far you can be pushed mentally one you have placed yourself in a situation and how much destruction you’re willing to do to friends and family along the way. To me, that’s way more chilling than a splash page of guts and gore.

And I think it’s safe to say that, given the right horror, kids really do enjoy giving themselves a good scare, in whatever medium they get it. What is it, do you think, that appeals to younger readers with horror comics?

LB: There’s something about the taboo nature of horror: it feels like you’re always too young to be allowed to see the scariest movies or play the gory videogames. Anything that gives you access to something frightening becomes instantly appealing! Comics have often flown under the radar when it comes to age restrictions. The lazy assumption that “comics are for kids” has actually been a way in which younger readers have got hold of stories designed for older audiences. Horror also deals with things that are different and hard to understand; it celebrates weirdness. And we all feel weird as we transform from childhood to adulthood. We all start to grapple with this world that is bigger and stranger and more frightening than we thought. Some of those feelings get reflected back to you when you read horror. And then there’s the literal physical thrill of a jump-scare…

When dealing with writing ‘Home From Christmas’, bearing in mind that you’re writing for that younger reader, how do you go about getting the balancing act of making them just scared enough just right?

LB: With titles like this, you have to find a balance. You want to capture the spirit of the original comics, designed for pre-teen and teen readers, particularly girls, by writing something relatable. Equally, you know that today’s readership will be made up of a mix of new young readers and older readers who perhaps remember the title from before or just want a good scare. Those older readers may well have a long history of reading horror so there’s definitely a challenge to come up with something fresh and different that doesn’t just rely on horror movie tropes.

Do you think there’s a real market for the sort of ‘girls’ comics we used to see, or do you think things are now more geared to the graphic novel market for teen and younger readers?

LB: We have to think about our terms here. Girls are a huge audience for comics – look at the success of Raina Telgemeier or Noelle Stevenson in bringing forward titles that have been hugely popular among girls and young women. Teenage girls in the UK are also avid consumers of Manga. So there’s absolutely a market for comics that girls want to read. I’m wary though about saying that those are “girls’ comics”. That implies that there’s such a thing as “boys’ comics” which gets you to perpetuating gender stereotypes and which excludes anyone who doesn’t identify as a boy or a girl.

Oh, absolutely, I agree with you there. The concept of girls and boys comics is something for the past. And it’s something that’s happened already – in an earlier life, I had the pleasure of setting up a primary school library, complete with at least 1,000 graphic novels, and it was so good to see that Raina’s books were by far the most borrowed item for the entire school, across all years. It’s pleasing to see that, with today’s younger readers, comics simply are comics, they enjoy what they enjoy and that’s a very important, very good thing – both for them and for comics!

Finally, thinking about Christmas and the end of the year, what do you think it is about this time of year that lends itself to ghost stories and horror?

LB: Long, dark evenings. Everyone locked away at home with their families. Bad dreams caused by too many pigs-in-blankets. There are also long traditions associated with this time of year: the half-goat, half-demon Krampus, for example, who comes along with Saint Nicholas in many Central European countries. Where Santa brings presents to good children, Krampus brings punishment to those who are bad.

And with that image in our heads, of Krampus punishing the bad folks (and yes, we have some of those in mind for sure, it’s time to thank Lizzie for giving us that look into Home For Christmas – you can find it in The Misty Winter Special, out on 2 December wherever comics are sold and from the 2000 AD web shop. And for more from those involved in the Misty Winter Special, check out the latest Thrill Cast!

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Interview: The Misty Special 2020 – Talking Infection With V V Glass & Anna Savory

Christmas and these dark, dark nights is the perfect time to enjoy a good ghost story – and we’ve got just the thing to give you that delicious chill down your spine with the new Misty Winter Special, which is out now!

Inside, you’ll find two spooky tales – first, there’s Home for Christmas, by Lizzy Boyle (Scream! &  Misty) and David Roach (Anderson, Psi Division), who treat us to a ghostly home-invasion that reveals dreaded sins of the past! But here, we’re chatting to the talented team behind the tale Infection, Anna Savory (Tales from the Satanic Library) & V.V. Glass (Doctor Who), who’ve got a terrifying treat for you with a disturbing tale about how far people are expected to conform to societal standards no matter how warped the rules become!

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The Misty Winter Special – cover by Simon Davis

101 issues of Misty were published weekly from 1978 to 1980, giving British readers a comic aimed at young girls that chilled and thrilled. Sure, there were plenty of ghosts, ghouls, zombies and monsters but, perhaps more importantly, Misty also never shied away from the darkness of the world, punishing any mild fault or foible with damnation or worse. Oh no, this certainly wasn’t the girls comic of looking after your pony or of girls school high-jinks, this was a comic where nightmares ruled.

Misty was home to some incredible strips, with great writing, wonderful artwork, something that’s been carried on through the new stories in the Misty & Scream Specials we’ve published, and continues here in this new Misty Winter Special.

Now, let’s catch up with V V Glass and Anna Savory to talk all things infectious and nasty in Infection… they’ve taken the creative partnership very seriously here, answering mostly as a unit, the perfect synergy of writer and artist!

V V, Anna, your strip in the new Misty Winter Special is called Infection and described as, ‘a disturbing tale about how far people are expected to conform to societal standards no matter how warped the rules become.’

I suppose the first thing to ask is what is this one all about?

V V GLASS / ANNA SAVORY: It’s not girls’ school hi-jinks! But it’s not not not girls’ school hi-jinks either! You might call it ‘a chilling tale of conformity gone mad’ if you were absolutely determined to quote The Simpsons at every opportunity (we are).

It’s about Char Baker, who has just won a science scholarship to a prestigious girls’ public school and her efforts to adapt to her new surroundings while still maintaining her sense of self and sanity. The Marx Brothers are there, as is the spectre of class-bound tradition masquerading as modernity. No ponies, admittedly, but maybe some ghosts.

Given the title, is it something that came about thanks to the wonderful year that Covid has given us?

V V G / AS: Interestingly, not originally – although there is no getting away from the theme of contagion either in the strip or in life! We sketched out most of the plot before last Christmas, and a lot of it came from a seed for a ghost story Anna had written back in 2017, along with some framing themes and images from V and one name joke.

So we had everything greenlit and planned out a while before quarantine, but there’s a definite thematic similarity, and the majority of the actual writing was done in those first few months of lock-down in an atmosphere of entrapment and febrile national panic! So we think that pervades the text nicely!

We had quite a few conversations at the start about whether the pandemic was going to completely change the way we all thought about contagion and disease, and whether we’d written a pre-COVID story for post-COVID publication, but we don’t think it’s shaken out that way – it’s only very superficially about communicable disease (in the traditional sense…). But people will definitely see parallels between this story and everyone’s lived reality of the last nine months, especially (we hope!) in the interaction between contagion and authority, but none of it is an explicit statement. The author being dead, though, they can all have at it.

How did the strip come about – did you pitch to get it or were you contacted by the editor (Oliver Pickles) and, seeing as you’re collaborating on this as co-writers, how did the collaboration come about?

V V G / AS: Oliver! Apple of our inboxes. V did a strip for last year’s Tammy & Jinty Special (‘In the Cold Dark’ with Matt Gibbs), which was basically an archaeological ghost story. Oliver asked them to do something for this year’s Winter Misty off the back of that, and both of us have wanted to collaborate on something substantial for as long as we’ve known each other, so this was the perfect opportunity for that. Anna’s produced a lot for performance but hadn’t written for comics before, and V had adapted a lot for comics but not really written for them, so we could balance the creative load nicely to play to our strengths.

So, for example, Anna’s specifically very good at conveying the reality of being a teenage girl – with all the unpleasantness and social intricacies of that, as well as the anger – without losing a sense of plot momentum and humour, and V’s good at the kind of expressive implicative visual beats that are one of the main draws of comics.

V, you’ve worked with Rebellion a few times already, with the 13th Floor Special and the Tammy & Jinty Special. Anna, as far as I know (and forgive me if I’m wrong), this is your first comics work?

Anna Savory: Yes! You’re quite right. My first rodeo. But I’m a horror writer and performer so the genre at least was well within my wheelhouse. I used to tour (back when we could!) with an occult one-woman show about a library of cursed books I inherited.

Well, that explains your Twitter bio – ‘Comedian and writer. British Library by day, Satanic Library by night.’

AS: Oh yes. And I’ve worked a lot in the space where horror and comedy and feminism intersect (what a space!); developed work for The London Horror Festival; Folk Horror Cinema club; taken a comedy-horror showcase to The Latitude Festival with Robin Ince and Reece Shearsmith. I also write and perform a lot of ghost stories on the London storytelling circuit, but until now almost all of my horror work has been written – and usually performed. This is my first experience of writing a comic, which is why it was so valuable to collaborate with V, who is of course so brilliantly visual in their process and the way they think. I presume they got me in as a sort of horror and ghost story adviser, and also, I expect, an adviser on the casual cruelty of teenage girls, and then we just went from there.

With Infection, I’m assuming that it’s going to have the same tone of Misty strips of old, giving readers old and young a good chill down the spine?

V V G / AS: Hopefully! There are definitely moments throughout where we tried for that punch of experiencing something strange and unpleasant that you get from going through the old annuals. The other bonus of us collaborating is we could bring what we both value in horror to the story – Anna’s a folk horror champion, so she could focus on the deceptively mundane setting and character-based mounting tension you get in those stories, and V’s a big fan of unsettling uncanny work like PTSD Radio and A Field in England, so there’s a lot of using the familiar in unfamiliar ways coming from those influences. We like to think there’s a bit of an inheritance of the old strips’ comedy factor as well, there’s a good sense of humour in both adding to the atmosphere.

And, when thinking about the sorts of strange unpleasantness seen in Misty, would you agree that those sorts of horrors were far more psychological, far more affecting, than the more visceral horrors of something like the EC Comics.

V V G / AS: That’s very true, and there’s definitely a case to be made for eerie things sticking with you for longer, but we also think the two things aren’t necessarily at odds. This definitely isn’t gore and splatter, but there’s something about as visceral in the psychological horror here – as we mentioned before, the driving visual for this in terms of spook factor ended up being ordinary things made uncanny by context, and that’s really the core of psychological horror. So in that vein we’ve tried to isolate a few recurring motifs and images that go beyond the spooky and are just flat-out disturbing.

There’s always a little bit of hand-wringing that goes on with horror for kids, but I think there’s plenty of evidence out there that children do really enjoy a good scare, in whatever medium they get it. What is it, do you think, that appeals to younger readers with horror comics?

V V G / AS: We’ve done a fair amount of that hand-wringing privately actually. We don’t think either of us set out trying to pitch this very hard at a young audience; we both wrote something that we as adults found spooky, and presumed Misty readers would be intelligent and fear-loving enough to find it spooky too.

When we finished writing everything we did suddenly think ‘oh God, we hope this won’t actually traumatise anyone, is this okay for who it’s aimed at?’ But as you say, you have to give young readers credit, and the sort of people who are seeking out a horror comic know what they want, no sensitive readers are going to encounter this against their will. The saving grace, as well as part of the appeal, of horror comics (with the emphasis on comics) is you can engage with them at your own pace – you can spend as long as you need on a splash page or pack it in after a second if it’s too much. And the fact there is that more active relationship between reader and text is what makes good horror strips so effective, you have to make yourself make the story happen, by turning the page.

Horror is one of the most compelling genres for young readers, we think, and part of that is because it’s slightly illicit, which is always exciting. It’s something you grow up being told you aren’t old enough for – you can’t watch an 18 certificate film when you’re 12 – so part of what is so attractive is it makes you feel brave and mature when you choose to read it. And of course there’s a thrill in the idea you might not be able to handle it! Obviously it’s a cliché to say horror is a safe experience of things that would ruin your life if they happened to you in reality, but it’s true. It’s an exploration of things we’re told not to explore, which is especially appealing for young people.

I’m assuming that neither of you were reading Misty when it came out, so where did your awareness of the comic come from?

V V G / AS: We didn’t read them as they came to market, no, but weirdly we did both come across them quite young. Anna had a few copies in her garage as a teenager, which belonged to her uncle (proof of what you were saying about this transcending its intended audience). She was on a huge kitsch horror kick from the age of 14-18, but she actually couldn’t handle the sort of hard-core sleepover screenings her friends were into. Campy and creepy was right-up her alley, though! So Misty went with Amicus as part of her horror self-education, rather than Richard Laymon and Hostel.

And the nurse’s office at V’s primary school had a lot of the collections for some reason, and they read a lot of them while waiting to go to hospital there, so Misty is part of some fairly formative childhood memories (swab round the back of the eye socket). And actually, they were also too much of a coward for sleepover horror films back then, so horror comics were a sort of digestible onramp to being able to stomach the general body of horror media. Which, come to think of it, is another thing that makes Misty appealing to younger readers, that type of horror is manageable at that age.

And what did you think of the old Misty tales?

V V G / AS: Loved ‘em! They’re classic in the best possible sense, you understand the time they were produced for exactly when you read them, which is part of the point as we understand it. They’re hyper-relevant to their audience, from the character types and clothes, to the kinds of stories being told, which is something the new comics are pulling off as well. We hope that while we haven’t replicated them (because it’s 2020 now) we’ve managed to produce something close to them in spirit.

Where do you see this new Misty Winter Special appealing? Presumably, it’s a strip written and drawn with a teen+ reader in mind?

V V G / AS: Yes and no – for Anna’s part especially she’ll have an audience in the back of her mind as she writes, but we try not to write at an audience. Making something you, as an adult, think a teenager would like is going to end up feeling forced and condescending – especially with horror. As with comedy, you should go with whatever gets a reaction from you and trust you’ll find your audience on the same page. But that said, we wouldn’t be professionals if we didn’t hold them vaguely in mind, and hopefully, it’s a strip that taps into some very essential teenage themes and questions and fears.

In terms of the visuals, we did lean away from gore and the more hardcore horror ideas we had in order to keep it readable for the younger contingent of the teen-and-up readership, as much as for reasons of personal taste. And pseudo-Glen Keane cartoon art is basically appealing to all ages, so we didn’t choose to aim the style at any age-group in particular either.

When talking of these comics, it’s easy to use the older descriptors of these as ‘girls’ comics. But even back then, comics such as Misty had many, many boys grabbing copies from their sisters and enjoying the great strips inside.

What was it that made these older strips and comics, ostensibly designed and marketed to girls in a time when there was a very defined boys and girls market for anything and everything, something special that crossed the gender boundaries in this way.

V V G / AS: It’s an interesting question. Horror is lucky in that it’s already a slightly niche genre, so it sort of transcends any additional classifications – you’ve already gone beyond the idea of neat clear-cut pony-club girls’ comics by having dark stories. And really the only thing demarcating girls’ and boys’ comics then was the worry on the part of the reader that they’d be mocked for reading the ‘wrong’ type, it’s not so much something built into the nature of the stories themselves. So boys, back in the day, might have felt less embarrassed reading their sisters’ horror comics, as opposed to romance or adventure strips, because there’s more shared ground in fear than other experiences, and it’s a more publicly defensible choice. Hopefully, it doesn’t need to be one now though.

And thinking about the traditions of these older comics and how they’re being brought back for new readers today, how do you visualise and hope the comics will develop?

V V G / AS: We’d like to see, on the one hand, more ongoing series and more anthologies with a shared theme or framing device from things like Misty – although that might just be our mutual love of Amicus talking. On the other hand, the strength of Misty and its sister comics is the shorter, disconnected stories – you can read them in any order, there’s no continuity, and none of the pressure for the creators of keeping one plot going over years of issues. So we wouldn’t want long-form strips to replace the more usual short story collections, it’d be great to have both running concurrently.

It’d also be great to have Misty et al. branch out as we go on, to have period pieces and genre work. There’s a temptation to have everything in comics like this be set in the current year (not that we’re an exception here), which can get wearing if it’s done too much. We think people overestimate how much kids and teens can only or only want to connect with stories set in their own lifetimes, but a lot of teenagers are hugely into fashion and media of the past, there’s no reason they wouldn’t get on with period pieces in horror too.

More generally, the current remit Rebellion’s got for these older comics – diversity and modernity – feels extremely welcome. Hopefully that stays a central tenet of these properties, it’s certainly one of the more rewarding things we kept in mind while writing for them.

V, one thing that’s particularly nice to see from artists is an idea of the process of putting together their pages. What process do you use for your art – is it digital, old-school pencil and ink, or somewhere in-between?

V V GLASS: Digital and old-school, digital trying to replicate old-school in fact. So I start with doing roughs in a notebook, and I’ll do the whole strip in one go so I can have a sense of how everything’s going to cohere, and go back and edit things where needed, (which, as I understand it, is what literally everyone does, but you never know, someone out there might thumbnail 10 pages at a time to keep a sense of mystery.)

Stage 1 for V V Glass – getting those layouts down.

You can see the first stab at a page differs quite a lot from the final version, this stage is more about getting a basic idea of space and flow down quickly.

Then I scan everything and put each rough page on a full-size template in Photoshop, move things around so they use the space properly, and put panel borders on. That’s by far the most boring part of the whole process so it helps to get it out of the way early.

The next bit is a bit of a leap, but I go straight in and paint the backgrounds for all the pages, using the roughs as a guide for where the figures will go when I draw them in. It’s easier to keep a flow going by doing essentially 36 matte paintings in a row rather than cutting between painting buildings and drawing people, and it helps with sorting out the perspective in the figure-drawing stage too. I’ll have a lot of reference images on hand for this bit.

Stage 2 – getting those backgrounds sorted.

So then the rest of the process is pretty standard – pencilling the figures over the top of the backgrounds, inking them and then putting on flat colour and shade. I normally leave the figures flat, obviously, that helps distinguish them against the backgrounds, but I will add in a bit more rendering or texture on close-ups etc.

Stage 3 – adding pencils over those backgrounds.
Stage 4 – figure inks.

And then the final stage is tweaking the colours on the whole page so the palettes of different panels don’t clash, and neatening everything up.

Finally, stage 5, getting the colours in and tidying up.

Finally, what can we look forward to from both of you for the coming year, both Rebellion and beyond?

V V G / AS: Anna’s currently working on a ‘feminist ghost story collection cum memoir’ (the agent’s term, not hers) which is taking up most of her time. V’s working on The Last Witch, an ‘unpleasant fairytale’ with Boom! Studios (out 2021), which is taking up all of their time. And we’re very slowly working on a collab miniseries which we can’t talk about yet, but put very broadly it’s Hammer Horror meets Scooby Doo.

Hammer Horror meets Scooby Doo? Zoinks!

Well, thank you so much to V V and Anna for talking to us about Infection – you can find it in The Misty Winter Special, out on 2 December wherever comics are sold and from the 2000 AD web shop. And for more from those involved in The Misty Winter Special, check out the latest Thrill Cast!

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Talking The Man With The Two-Storey Brain with Paul Cornell for 2000 AD Regened

Time to get Regened again Squaxx dek Thargo, as The Mighty One gives the editorial reins over to his nephew, Joko Jargo, for the all-ages takeover that is REGENED!

Out from 4 November in all great newsagents, comic shops and from the 2000 AD web shop, Prog 2206 is full of amazing all-ages action, with the return of Cadet Dredd, a return to Nu-Earth withVenus Bluegenes, a time-twisting Future Shock, and the threat of alien invasion for Judge Anderson. Now that’s a Ghafflebette line-up for sure!

But there’s one extra strip that’s bound to have fans new and old talking, as Paul Cornell and Anna Readman bring back a classic from the early days of 2000 ADAbelard Snazz!

Another awesome all-ages cover from Alex Ronald – Dino, get down!

Artist Anna Readman is fresh out of Uni and making a big splash in the world of comics with her works Area 07, School Yodel no. 3, 6 Memos, and Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree. This is her first work for 2000 AD – I would imagine it’s not going to be her last!

Paul Cornell, on the other hand, has been doing this for a while. He’s ‘s is an award-winning author and writer of many, many different things, including plenty of sci-fi and fantasy in prose (Shadow Police, Lychford), comics (Captain Britain and MI-13, This Damned Band), TV (Doctor Who), and radio (a beautifully done adaptation of Iain M. Banks’ The State of the Art for BBC Radio). But with all of that, he’s only appeared in the world of 2000 AD with three series – Pan-African Judges (with Siku, Judge Dredd Megazine vol 2 #44-49, 1993/4), Deathwatch: Faust & Falsehood (with Adrian Salmon, Megazine vol 3 #8-13, 1995/6), and XTNCT (with D’Israeli, Megazine #209-214, 2003/4).

To find out more about the return of the man most likely to solve your problems again and again and again, generally making everything worse than when he started, we caught up Paul Cornell for a chat (with tongue firmly in cheek at times!) about all things Abelard Snazz when the man with the multi-storey mind returns in a tale of microscopic menace, atomic amusement, and molecular musings in Abelard SnazzThe Only Way Is Up!


Paul, I think I can speak for everyone opening up their copies of Prog 2206 when I say it was one heck of a surprise to see the strip that you, Anna, Pippa, and Jim are involved with – Abelard Snazz, ‘the man with the multi-storey mind’.

PC: Obviously, it’s the strip everyone’s been waiting for. Alan Moore’s most famous character is back!

Now, for those who don’t know, Abelard Snazz was created back in the early days of 2000 AD by Alan Moore and Steve Dillon and only appeared in eight progs from 1980-1983 (2000 AD #189-190, #209, #237-238, #245, #254, and #299).

PC: So this is neatly timed to celebrate his fortieth anniversary!

Absolutely! And, of course, seeing as the strip was by Alan Moore, with Steve Dillon, Mike White, John Cooper, and Paul Neary on art, it’s well-remembered by older fans and much loved.

PC: Ah. Is it? Ulp. I mean… how well remembered? Am I going to get angry emails? Are there childhoods that I’m about to destroy?

Well, I certainly wouldn’t be signing up for some of the 2000 AD groups out there in social media land right now if I were you, Paul. They can get a little snippy about things.

So, how did the return of Abelard Snazz come about and how did you find yourself charged with the gig?

PC: I tend to do things because they’d be fun, hence the incredibly varied career. I really should put some thought into just doing one thing and getting good at it. But this time I was just thinking ‘hmm, I’ve never worked for 2000 AD proper, only for the Megazine’, and I remembered that Matt Smith had said to me, years ago, that if I fancied having a go at one of their established characters I was always welcome. So I emailed him reminding him of that, and he asked me about Snazz. And once I’d read the Snazz strips, I realised this was incredibly timely. Because these days the world has too many very clever people who can’t quite ever manage to be clever enough to foresee all the terrible, terrible consequences of that cleverness.

Looking at the episode, you’ve easily picked up on the template of the double-brained, four-eyed, mutant supermind proving to be too smart for his own good, solving the first problem brought to him and then spending the rest of his time solving the problems each of his solutions manage to cause.

PC: I suspect the original Snazz strips are now used in lessons at some of the more expensive public schools. Except they’re all missing the last page.

How did you approach the strip itself?

Was it a case of looking at what worked and going with that template of evermore ridiculous solutions to the problems of Abelard’s own making?

PC: I wanted to see what would happen if I took that to the furthest extreme I could think of.

Also, the original strips are very aware of the Sci-Fi genre tropes of their time, so I wanted to play that against where Sci-Fi and science has gone since then. Microscopic universes, like giant insects, take a bit of handwaving now.

There’s a playfulness here with your writing that comes out in so many silly little details in the background, the ridiculousness of the sub-atomic setting, and the wordplay of Abelard and Edwin.

PC: I’m starting to accept my comedy self. I’ve recently done strips for Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Blood, and one of my creator-owned comics titles this year is a romcom.

And of course, the playfulness of the strip finds fabulous expression through the art here of Anna Readman, a relatively new artist, fresh out of Uni and really making waves with her work.

PC: Oh yes, she’s amazing!

Have you had a chance to see the finished pages yet?


It seems to me that she’s tapped right into the original look of the series, albeit with a modern twist. And Pippa Bowland has outdone herself with the vibrant, un-real colours that fill this strange, strange world.

PC: Yeah, the detail is superb. Everything in my panel descriptions is in there, and loads more besides. Pippa’s an old friend, so I was delighted when she got this gig. The colouring and art really take this to another level.

It’s a classic example of a 2000 AD strip that could work perfectly well in both the regular 2000 AD and the Regened Progs, with the cleverness of the concept being something anyone, of any age, can enjoy and appreciate.

PC: I hope so.

Was this something that you had in mind when putting it all together?

PC: That’s why I hope so. I think it’s got a few levels, and the youngest readers might appreciate a story of an adult who thinks he knows what he’s talking about and doesn’t.

Looking ahead, what plans might you have for any more of these Abelard Snazz tales?

PC: None, I’ve ended his universe. Spoilers. I mean, I really spoilt it. Which is unfortunate, since you now tell me he’s such a beloved character.

No, actually, I loved doing this, but I can think of several talented and funny creators who should have a go, and I’d like to write for other established 2000 AD characters.

Now, a few more general things to talk about…

PC: Go on. Worried again now.

You’ve had a lengthy career in comics, yet haven’t really had a lot of material here in 2000 AD, just the Pan-African Judges, Deathwatch: Faust & Falsehood, and XTNCT, with the last of those back in 2004.

PC: What are you implying?

Was it simply a case of too many other irons in the fire?

PC: Okay, I needed the money.

No. No. Honestly, no. We’re comfortable, all right?

Actually, real answer: I want to work almost exclusively on my own creations now, so I have a body of work of my own. And this year that’s going really well. So I feel able to once again do the occasional gig for fun with characters I don’t own. And I really did want to have my name included on the list of creators who’d worked for 2000 AD, without always having to add a caveat to that.

That’s quite an eccentric reason, isn’t it? Would ‘for the money’ be better?

And as far as the concept of 2000 AD Regened Progs go, what are your thoughts on the expansion of such an iconic title and its courting of younger readers?

In fact, what are your thoughts on the way comics are going right now, with the successes of children’s comics around the world, the likes of Dav Pilkey’s Dogman and Raina Telgemeier delivering multi-million print runs and driving a huge expansion of younger readers as comic fans through graphic novels rather than monthly serialised works.

PC: One of the ways comics has changed hugely for the better in recent years is the sheer number of bestselling children’s comics. I think the majority of comics should be for children. I actually think it’s quite weird that regular 2000 AD isn’t all-ages. Loads of very adult comics were produced under the Comics Code in the 1970s. It never seemed to be a problem for Steve Gerber.

Now, with Regened all about getting new and younger readers into comics, into 2000 AD, how about your own experiences of discovering both comics and 2000 AD?

PC: I was always given comics by my parents, starting with Playhour and Pippen, Asterix and Tintin, and then Dad brought home first Avengers Weekly (which blew my mind), then Warlord and Battle. Those offhand purchases, that they were happy to make because they were assured of the content, are one of the factors that set my life on its current course.

Regened has brought back some classic characters… any you’d really love to see given the all-ages Regened treatment?

PC: Flesh is the ideal strip for kids, because it’s really splattery dinosaur horror in a fantastical, suitably distanced format. There’s nothing that happens in that that’s not in Jurassic Park.

And would there be a wishlist of characters you’d love to write in the pages of 2000 AD or the Megazine?

PC: So many. Dan Dare (especially, I have a plan and everything), Timequake, Nemesis, M.A.C.H. One!

A Plan for Dan Dare… sounds intriguing!

What’s coming up next? Will we be seeing you in the pages of 2000 AD or the Megazine any time soon?

PC: That’s up to Tharg. I’ve got four creator-owned comics coming out, including the already announced I Walk With Monsters and The Modern Frankenstein, and lots more comics I can’t tell you about. My last Lychford novella is out in November, and there’s lots more happening across prose and TV. Thanks for asking!

Thank you so much to Paul Cornell for taking the time to chat all things Abelard. You can get hold of Paul’s I walk With Monsters (art by Sally Cantirino, colours by Dearbhla Kelly, published by Vault Comics) from 11 November and his Modern Frankenstein (with art from Emma Vieceli, colours from Pippa Bowland, part of the new Magma Comix imprint from Heavy Metal) due out on 28th April, 2021.

He’s online at paulcornell.com and is @Paul_Cornell on Twitter. And you can find more art from Anna Readman at annareadman.com or @annareadman.

2000 AD Prog 2206, the last Regened Prog of 2020 is out from 4 November. Pick it up from the 2000 AD web shop right now!

And remember, the Regened Progs are all about getting the next generation of readers into the Galaxy’s greatest comic – so make sure that copy of 2000 AD Regened Prog 2206 gets into a young nonscrot’s hands – YOU could be giving the gift of 2000 AD reading for a lifetime!!

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Talking Dark Judgessss and Deliverance with David Hine & Nick Percival

It’s a bumper 30th anniversary for the Judge Dredd Megazine with issue 424, out 16 September. And of all the strips inside, there’s only one that’s really going to be able to get under your skin and give you nightmares – and that’s the return of The Dark Judges in the new 10-part series Deliverance by David Hine and Nick Percival, with more of this sort of thing to wake you up in a cold sweat…

Death wantssss you… Nick Percival’s Judge Death in repose.

When we last left the Dark Judges at the end of The Torture Garden, we had seen Judges Death, Fire, and Mortis, later joined by Judge Fear (thanks to those oh so helpful marines coming to ‘rescue’ the colony), go through the colony on Dominion like a good dose of salts. By the end of that series, we had Dominion destroyed and Death was trapped in a Boing tube – and all seemed well.

Which is pretty much where we are when Deliverance opens – and you know it’s not going to be long before everyone involved is going to be getting the sort of bad dreams that Roscoe is getting…

Dreamssss of Dark Judgessss – not good for a hypersleep

So, what can we expect from this new series of The Dark Judges? Will Judge Death escape his Boing prison? (I’m going for a hard yes there) Will everyone live happily ever after? (Nope, not a chance) And perhaps most importantly, will we get the chance to see Judge Death extract suitable revenge on William Wordsworth?

Only one way to find out – time to sit down with series writer and artist, David Hine and Nick Percival and talk all things Dark Judgesssss. And this time, we even get a catchy theme song to sing along while we read…

Ssssssing along kids!

Okay then, David, Nick, the Dark Judges return in Megazine 424 with the next instalment of a tale that seems to be bringing them slowly yet surely to Earth. Or at least that’s what we thought until this first episode of Deliverance.

So, what can we expect this time around?

DAVID HINE: To be honest, I’ve been in a mellow mood recently. I’ve been feeling like there is too much hatred and violence in the world so I pitched a story that was all about love and peace. Editor, Matt Smith, got back to me saying “The story is fine, but can we have lots more people dying.”

I guess that’s what the readers want from the Dark Judges – so expect more death.

NICK PERCIVAL: You can eventually expect some more killing of course but there’s a lot to establish first. Since when we last saw him, Death was floating through space trapped in his Boing ™ bubble, forced to a tortured eternity of reading the entire works of Wordsworth. Once we get going, Deliverance drops the Dark Judges into a grim, new setting and introduces a fresh bunch of weird characters along with the return of the lead character from The Torture Garden, Rosco.

It’s a unique look at Judge Death, who is worshipped, almost as a God on this new planet inhabited primarily by a perverted Death Cult called the Mortarians. Dave and myself were thinking of ideas of how to continue the saga of the Dark Judges, so I initially pitched two very rough ideas to Tharg and the one of Judge Death crash landing on a planet where he’s seen as a God and worshipped before all Hell breaks loose was the one that was green lit– Dave being the excellent writer he is, completely improved this very basic premise by about a million which is what with now have with Deliverance.

There’s one of those lovely hmmm moments right on the first page of episode one, with Sergeant Santos uttering those oh so ridiculous lines, ‘The Dark Judges are obliterated, we’re coming home‘.

Oh Santos, poor deluded Santos.

Is this part of the fun of dealing with the Dark Judges, that notion that we all know, and you know, that that’s simply not going to happen, that the Dark Judges will always find their way back?

DH: There is a relentless inevitability about those bastards isn’t there? But hey, anyone who starts a story with a ludicrously optimistic statement like that is asking for trouble.

NP: Yeah. Whatever we do to them and however they’ve been ‘destroyed’ in previous encounters, they obviously can’t really die, so eventually return in some form or other. There’s always a process we have to go through to convincingly ‘resurrect’ them though. This time it ties in perfectly with the crux of the story, specifically the dark, twisted religious side of it and the agenda of the leader of the Death Cult. What’s cool is that I have the opportunity to tweak some of the design elements of the Dark Judges, since how they look is linked to what happens to them on the planet and the process of how they can be reborn, so to speak. I did some of that in The Torture Garden and I don’t want to give anything away here but there are some pretty interesting images to come…

So far in episode one, we’ve seen the survivors from Dominion making their way back to Earth and the ‘Navis Mortis’ – ‘Ship of Death’, the flagship of the Mortarian Death Cult, heading the opposite way. Can you give us some background on this particular group of certifiably insane folks?

DH: The Mortarians are Catholic guilt meets Jonestown massacre. I’ve always been interested in religious cults that are willing to follow their insane leaders into mass suicide. The Mortarians are a religious cult that sees life as one long trail of misery.

My main inspiration comes from a 15th Century religious writer called Thomas à Kempis who wrote a book called “The Imitation of Christ,” which is the most miserable piece of writing I’ve ever endured. His philosophy seemed to be that you have to spend your life suffering and doing penance so you can have fun in heaven after you die. If you enjoy life, you’ll be plunged into burning pitch and stinking sulphur. He says that “one hour’s punishment then will be more bitter than a century of penance on earth.” I named one of the Mortarians after Kempis and he comes out with lines like that. These people spend of lot of time self-flagellating.

When it comes to The Dark Judges, it seems that Nick has found a real home for his particular brand of artwork. It seems absolutely a perfect fit for his particular style.

How’s the working relationship between the two of you work outand David, how pleased are you with the series when you get to see Nick’s work?

NP: It’s great working with Dave. His scripts are so cinematic and visual, you never get bored as there’s always something cool to illustrate. I think because he’s an artist himself he understands the flow of a page and what works and what doesn’t in terms of what you can actually do with the storytelling process and how page layouts work. We chuck ideas back and forth and seem to have the same sick sense of humour and gravitate towards the same kind of themes and tone.

DH: I get a real surge of Thrill-Power when I see Nick’s art (I always wanted to say that). He’s particularly good with melting flesh and mutilation so these stories give him plenty to get his claws into. We’ve worked really well together. Nick often has suggestions for visuals, which I’m happy to incorporate into the story. I always try to play to an artist’s strengths. In Nick’s case I give him plenty of splash pages for the Dark Judges. He gets to re-imagine them with each story as they inhabit new bodies. In this series some of the Judges will be given alien host bodies, something I don’t think we’ve seen before.

Nick, when it comes to your artwork, how has it changed over the years to get to this point?

NP: It’s been evolving over the many years I’ve been doing comics to get to something like The Dark Judges. I’ve worked on a lot of horror themed projects in the past (Hellraiser, artwork for John Carpenter, etc.) so Judge Death and the gang were always a natural fit for me. If anything, working on The Dark Judges has just given me more of an opportunity to develop that dark, grim, moody style that I like to do – a lot of heavy shadows, cinematic lighting, textures, etc. The Dark Judges are perfect for that. What’s nice about these stories though is the variety of characters and environments, so I also get to design a lot of new stuff from scratch.

You’re one of the few artists working in, what I assume is, a fully-painted style that first really came to prominence in the pages of 2000 AD and the Megazine in the 90s. Is that how you started out, or is it something that slowly developed? 

NP: I started with painted art, working traditionally with acrylics way back in the day and it’s a technique that I will still do occasionally for private commissions but I moved over to fully painting digitally from about the year 2000, ironically enough. Back in the ‘90s all of us that painted were still learning our craft and to be honest the printing process wasn’t great for painted art back then, so everything looked like mud – we were also all fairly young and making our art mistakes in public, so to speak, but you keep at it and you get better over time.

I have such a structured approach to painting a page or cover nowadays, that’s it’s pretty much second nature but that’s taken years of working to get that process solid and reliable – Of course, you’re always limited by deadlines and other factors, so you do the best you can in the time allowed. You have to know when to leave a page and move onto the next one.

And why do you think you’re one of the few who still work this way? I suppose one of the others here is Dave Kendall on The Fall of Deadworld – is it something like the Dark Judges club?

NP: Painted art takes more time, so that’s one reason and to be honest, it does take a while to develop the skills to do it properly. Personally, I think for the Dark Judges, it’s a great technique to use. For me, Bolland’s art on the characters is always going to be the ultimate versions of them and will never be bettered. He was producing fantastic black and white line art when he did them and I would never try and compete with that, so it helps that I’m painting them.

I think that, because of their grisly nature, you can develop interesting colour palettes to depict them and you can exploit that in the rendering of each character – I’m a stickler for detail, so painted art gives me a style to add all the decay, texture and gnarly bits that look so cool on the characters.  Judge Fire, for instance is always great to use a dominant light source for any scene that he’s in and all the blood is red of course, which always looks good in colour!

Nick Percival’s art for Deliverance Episode 1 – Page 4 – from pencils to final art –
There’s a lot of work in between!

And whilst we’re talking about process, it’s always more fun to not only talk about your process (but please do) but also to see the actual process at work.

NP: I still draw out the pages traditionally – pencil on board – and I work quite large, about A1 in size. My pencils are extremely loose though. I’ll scan those pencil pages in and then paint digitally using Photoshop and Painter. I still use the same painting techniques as when I used ‘real’ paints but now I also have access to things that digital excels at – textures, lighting and FX touches. For me, it’s all about the final image and I don’t care how the art was produced. There’s some snobbery about painted digital art but that’s Grandad talk – use whatever tools you like to get the job done and produce a strong final image.

More of the pencil to finished art comparison – this time page 8 of Deliverance Episode 1

NP: I think you can see from those examples of my rough page layouts that I do them really quickly and it’s just to get the flow of the page worked out and where the focus will be. Things can change quite a lot between this stage and final paints but all the information I need is there for me to tell the story and get working on the final pages

How far have you thought about taking the Dark Judges saga – is it something that you’ve thought of as having a definitive ending for you or is it far more a case of giving us these fun series exploring the aspects of the Dark Judges and how their very existence alters others?

NP: I don’t have the final ending to Deliverance yet, so don’t know we leave things – they could all skip off happily together into the sunset for all I know but I’m always keen to continue with the Dark Judges. Whether they end up back on Earth or not – I don’t think there’s any immediate rush to do that. I may be wrong, I dunno. There’s only so many times they can face Dredd and lose (mind you that doesn’t stop Batman and the Joker) and I’m sure at some point they’ll both face off again but as with Dominion, The Torture Garden and now with Deliverance, it does show there’s a lot of mileage in having them come up against new characters, new threats and new places to discover – the Universe is a big place after all.

DH: The biggest challenge with these Dark Judges stories is to come up with a satisfying ending. As a writer you have to find some way to stop them killing, at least long enough for the human race to carry on. I’m still tweaking the ending to Deliverance (but don’t tell Matt).

I suppose the ultimate Dark Judges story has to be the one where they eliminate all life throughout the Universe so they can take a well-earned rest. I’d be up for that one.

What are your plans after this, both with the Dark Judges and other work?

DH: No plans beyond this for the Dark Judges, unless I really do get to write the Absolute Final Everybody Dies story. I have loads of other projects in the works, including more concepts with Brian Haberlin for Jim Valentino’s Shadowline Comics at Image and another graphic novel with Mark Stafford. I also have a very personal prose work on the back burner, but I’m not talking about that one yet.

NP: The nice thing about doing these Dark Judges series’ and one of the main incentives that keeps me going when painting all this art, is the knowledge that each series gets its own collected separate hardback volume down the line as we saw with Dominion. For me, it makes burning the midnight oil and putting all that effort in worth it, to see the individual collected books when done with all the extras and so on.

If Tharg wants more, I’m happy to continue with the Dark Judges and of course, it’s always fun to drop in on Dredd now and again. Maybe we will do some mega epic with Dredd and the Dark Judges at some point. Put a beat up, knackered Dredd, stranded and all alone onto a new Deadworld type planet with no tech and see how he gets on. That could be fun.

For other stuff, I’ll still do the odd private commission when time allows (just finished a huge Frankenstein canvas which was fun) but I’m actually also in the process  of developing a film that is pretty far along, so Covid-19 willing, that’s something that can hopefully move forward when everything is safe. Comics are my first love though and I don’t cheat on my first love.

And finally – Dave, what’s with the hatred of Wordsworth – a bad experience somewhere?

DH: Ah, now if you look at the end to The Torture Garden you’ll see that I’m actually a big fan of that particular poem (Intimations of Immortality). It’s Judge Death who has a deep loathing for Wordsworth. It’s true that in my youth I was forced to read “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud” at school and hated it. I was more a fan of Baudelaire and Rimbaud, or the Beats. I still adore Ginsberg’s HOWL for instance. But I have also grown to appreciate Wordsworth’s yearning for transcendence. I find Judge Death’s reaction to Wordsworth hilarious. Uplifting poetry is the one thing that gets right up his nose (or would if he had one).

Three stages of Nick Percival artwork –
all to get to a horrific Death feeling majorly pissed at William Wordsworth.

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Thank you so much to David and Nick for filling us in on what those four undead scamps are up to. You can find the first part of the 10-episode Dark Judges – Deliverance series in Judge Dredd Megazine issue 424 – get it from the 2000 AD web shop now!

But, just in case what you’ve seen so far hasn’t been enough to give you nightmares, we shall leave you with this – a delightful close-up of Nick Percival‘s Judge Death from Deliverance episode one. Just imagine waking up and seeing this in front of you – yeah, have nightmares kids, have lots of them…

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Dreadnoughts: The world that would be Dredd’s with Michael Carroll & John Higgins

‘Back in the Spring of 2035 we could almost
feel the nation crumbling around us.’

JUDGE VERANDA GLOVER, BOULDER, COLORADO, 2035 AD

That’s the opening line of the stunning new series Dreadnaughts, an explosive tale of the dawn of the Justice Department – coming to Judge Dredd Megazine issue 424 from writer Michael Carroll, artist John Higgins, and colour artist Sally Jane Hurst. Right now, the future has never looked closer.

In Dreadnoughts, we’re diving into the explosive transition years between the recognisable policing and government of the modern-day USA and the new world order of the Justice Department of Mega-City One- just 15 years from now and yeet, in the modern world of now, it’s a world that seems just a few bad mistakes away.

I talked to Michael Carroll and John Higgins about the series for an interview that’s going to be published in the pages of Megazine issue 425, available mid-October.

But… there was so much to talk about and only a limited space in the Megazine, so we wanted to bring you both a good look at the world of Dreadnaughts here and include all of those ‘dvd’ extras not included in the Megazine interview.

Spot the writer?
On the left – Michael Carroll, on the right – John Higgins

Dreadnoughts tells an all too possible tale of a nation giving away its democracy, a history of getting from here to there – showing just how easily it is for a nation to give away its freedoms for the easy, empty promises of making a country great again – frankly, being in the USA for the election in November this year, all this is very close to home.

In Dreadnoughts, we’re in the USA of 2035 AD, where the new Justice Department is still in its early years, and where Fargo’s Judges slowly but surely pushing into all levels of law enforcement; police, military, judiciary, and government.

‘For years, the country’s best political analysts
had warned us that disaster was inevitable
if we didn’t alter our course.
So we replaced those analysts with others
willing to provide more palatable answers…
…and then we were astonished to discover
that the problems still existed.’

Judge Veranda Glover, Boulder, Colorado, 2035 AD

Of course, Michael Carroll is no stranger to this world on the cusp of becoming the world we know in Judge Dredd, having written many of the Judges prose novels that cover the time period from the 2030s to 2070s, when traditional law is being transformed into the Justice Department regime we’re all used to seeing in the pages of Dredd.

Dreadnaughts chronicles the world seen in those Judges prose novels, but instead of jumping forward every book, the comic gives Carroll more chance to focus on a specific time and specific set of characters – as he says, ‘Dreadnoughts is a chance to ease off the throttle a bit.

But it’s not just the Judges prose books that have set the stage for Dreadnoughts – Carroll again; ‘My five-part Judge Dredd strip “The Paradigm Shift” (2000 AD progs 2082 to 2086, with art by Jake Lynch, colours by John Charles and letters by Annie Parkhouse) was a sort of pilot for Dreadnoughts to see whether a comic-strip version of Judges could work – it was successful enough for Matt to green-light the series.

The Prelude to Dreadnoughts – Judge Dredd: The Paradigm Shift
(2000 AD progs 2082 to 2086) – art by Jake Lynch

In this first series, Breaking Ground, we’re looking at the world through the eyes of newly-graduated, 40-year-old, Judge Veranda Glover. She’s joining a team of four Judges in Boulder, Colorado, under the leadership of Judge Venn. First time we see them – a demonstration that’s getting out of control.

Glover’s part of the new cadre of Judges, those who were not deep in law enforcement already, and she’s going to have a hard time working with those cop/Judges. ‘They all had other careers before they joined the new Department of Justice,’ says Carroll, ‘so for many of them this is just another job.’ So when Judge Glover comes in, literally with guns blazing, she’s bound to create friction.

The sort of friction that comes with Glover getting to the demonstration and immediately opening fire on the demonstrators, something Venn had expressly told the team not to do – the problem is that Glover wasn’t at that meeting –

Doing a strip with the political overtones of Dreadnoughts in the current political climate is tapping into the spirit of the now, yet with Carroll and Higgins imagining what might happen in just a few years from now.

Yet Carroll is finding that the world he’s writing about in Dreadnoughts does seem to be coming closer and closer – ‘Oh yes, in the past few weeks we’ve seen heavily-armed masked civilians storming US government buildings in an attempt to force the government to comply with their wishes. Right now, such actions are permitted because they suit the government’s needs – get the people back to work to make more money for the billionaires – but when the people assemble in that manner to fight for something that might tip the balance of power, well, that invariably leads to a much bloodier outcome.’

And Carroll’s thoughts on how democracy fails are fascinating, both in the strip and in the moment – ‘To get from where we are now to the Judge system isn’t going to require the leaders to step down, but the people to step aside. Again, it goes back to the common cry of “Someone ought to do something!” History shows us that when the burdens of poverty and crime start to overwhelm the state the people will gratefully relinquish their power to those they believe will provide a better outcome.’

Carroll continues – ‘Would you rather be free but starving, or well-fed but not allowed to travel outside your designated zone without a permit? Idealism and nobility can help us stand tall and proud, but often they’re papier-mâché constructs: their perceived strength dissolves with the rain.’

And yes, Carroll does recognise that things are seemingly progressing in the wrong way far too quickly – ‘On a lighter note… I wrote the script for “Breaking Ground” in the summer of 2018, and one of the lines that appears in the first episode is, “no matter how strange something is, given enough time it just becomes the new normal.” There was no way I could have known then that the phrase “the new normal” would be bandied around so much in early 2020 that it’s already become a cliché!’

Now, when it comes to the whole idea of dealing with this pivotal period in the history of Mega-City One, Carroll’s aware that what’s being done in Dreadnoughts is pivotal, but he’s taking it slow – ‘Yes, it’s enormous,’ he says, ‘but we tackle it in bite-sized chunks! One of the biggest problems is that real-world events keep undermining us… Right now we have a planet-wide pandemic necessitating a lock-down, and one of the side-effects is the rise to prominence of the sort of people who automatically decide that anything which doesn’t suit them is part of a conspiracy against them.’

Having read just the first episode of Dreadnoughts at this point, I’ve got no idea where the story is going, but from what I’ve read in episode one, the story and art give us a brutal and brilliant look at a world just around the corner. And it’s a world that both Carroll and Higgins have put an awful lot of work into building.

Carroll talks of the idea of having Glover and the other Judges essentially being ‘security guards patrolling a building that’s simultaneously burning and sinking, while at the same time Fargo is attempting to break it apart so he can use the good bits to make a better, stronger building… to his own design.’

As to where it goes from this first series, Carroll says that, ‘it depends to some degree on the reaction to this first series, but I’ve planned out a few more series following Judge Glover over the course of several years.’ He continues to add that, ‘that highlights one of the main differences between these tales of the first Judges and the Dredd-era stories: our Judges can have a background, a past life that has shaped the Judge they’ve become, and elements of that background will linger.’

When it came to creating this world, John Higgins has been deeply involved with Dreadnoughts from the beginning, working on creating a future that’s recognisable to us from where we are now. Very much in the footsteps of Carlos Ezquerra, making a future that we could see from where we were at the time.

Higgins describes Dreadnoughts and the world-building involved as, ‘On one level, Dreadnoughts is the hardest SF comic strip I have ever had to draw, to visualise 10 minutes into the future, which I how I describe SF that is not jet packs, robots and FTL spaceships. No one can tell me my spaceship is wrong, but could if they were pedantic enough, to say “that is not the Broadway of Boulder City Colorado”, but then I would tell them to “fuck off!” as it is set in the near future 10 minutes from now and that is what it looks like then! Yes, I do get slightly piqued when people tell me such things, but otherwise I am pretty easy going!’

He continues, ‘To visualise this world is simple in theory, it is the same as we see now with any variations done to further the story, but thank goodness for Google maps, I can walk the streets that Judge Glover will walk, she and her fellow judges are the only, maybe slightly jarring SF elements on the streets, which in someway make Mike’s story more chilling by being set so close to the now we see outside.’

One difficulty Higgins has had to overcome here is that we’re so close to the events of Dreadnaughts, meaning that everything has to be recognidsable to us here in the 2020s – ‘It’s the same as looking at images from 30, 40 or even 50 years ago, nothing has changed in most forms we see except in little details, the everyday clothes we wear, the cars, transportation of any kind, buildings, all completely recognizable to anyone from 1970 and for us the designs in 2035 are going to be the same more or less as now.’

John is creating Dreadnoughts with colourist, Sally Jane Hurst, with a combination of traditional and digital, as he’s done since the 90s. He was an early adopter of digital comics-making, but acknowledges some of the limitations – ‘I love the possibilities of what digital can do, but I always wanted to be able to see the artists individual style in the art, which is something I believe you don’t get in digital. A number of things give digital illustration parameters with a generic veneer no matter the artist or subject matter, even with the new software that has developed to be more intuitive since those early days.’

And of course, when it comes to worldbuilding, let’s face it, writers have it easy (sorry Mike)… after all, when he was doing those Judges prose novels, all he had to do was plant the idea in the reader’s head and they’d do the imagining work for him. But with comics, especially something so involved with world-building, it’s the artist who does the heavy lifting in so many ways….

I’m teasing, I’m teasing, but John did like that one – ‘Oooh and he is down! Can I kick Mike as the universal writer in the name of all other artists too? Ha ha, you said what all artists really truly believe.’ I think John’s at least partly joking there, but he continued – ‘Yes sometimes artists can feel hard done by. Particularly when writers write: PANEL 1. IN THIS PANEL 16 MILLION CITIZENS HIT THE STREETS OF MEGA CITY 1 – John Wagner did that to me once! Mike has had his moments in this series, maybe not quite to that level but close, crowds of rioters, phalanx’s of riot police, armed militia, the works!’

Winding things up, talk got to what their particular favourites were in the long history of 2000 AD – Carroll puts Dredd and Strontium Dog top of the list, along with The Stainless Steel Rat and The Ballad of Halo Jones. Following close behind he mentions Dan Dare, Kingdom, Ace Trucking Co., Rogue Trooper, Meltdown Man, Nikolai Dante… and I get the impression the list could go on and on!

When it comes to Higgins though, he’s quick to agree with Carroll about that list but singles out Rogue Trooper – ‘When it first appeared, seeing the first black line rendition of Rogue, Dave [Gibbons] depicted something slightly different to a human without it being obvious, when Rogue appears on the battlefield running out of the poisonous mist, that is a work of comic genius.’

John Higgins’ own version of a favourite character of his – Rogue Trooper
2000 AD Prog 602 (1988)

As far as what’s coming next from both Michael and John, you’ll be able to pick up Michael’s Judge Dredd Year Three novella, a further Judges novella, and he’s the editor on Judge Fear’s Big Day Out, a short story collection from the Megazine, which should be out in November (Covid permitting). You’re getting a brand-new series of Proteus Vex beginning in 2000 AD Prog 2200 and, finally for now, a four-part Dredd tale with art by Will Simpson. He’s also ‘spending far too much time working on Rusty Staples,’ and says, ‘I’ve got the standard writers’ collection of countless fire-dwelling irons, each of them awaiting the spark that’ll send them into the stratosphere and make me unbelievably rich and famous. I reckon it’s definitely my turn soon, right?

As far as John, he’s got a similar number of projects, again describing them as ‘small sparks waiting to burst into full-blown conflagrations.’ Yep, there’s a writer and artist in synchrony! He also wants to do ‘something more with my character Razorjack which is an ongoing project of constant creativity.

And both of them are hoping that they’ll be able to get back into the world of Dreadnoughts, with Higgins ending by saying, ‘I like Judge Glover, she chills me but I am close to trusting her, as I do Dredd, to do the right thing according to the Law.

.

Dreadnoughts: Breaking Ground explodes into the pages of the Judge Dredd Megazine with issue 424, out on 16 September. Get it from the 2000 AD web shop.

And for a lot more from both Mssrs Carroll and Higgins, be sure to check out Megazine 425 for the full interview – where they talk Dreadnoughts in a LOT more detail!

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The Gun Slingin’ Face of Fury Returns! Brent McKee talks about El Mestizo!

The new Battle of Britain Special – out 16 September – brings back a classic when the ‘Scourge of the American Civil War’, El Mestizo returns!

Yes, it’s time for more gun-slingin’ action at last, as one of Battle’s favourites returns with co-creator Alan Hebden and artist Brent McKee at the reins!

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El Mestizo was a creation of Hebden and the late, great Carlos Ezquerra, first appearing in Battle #118 (1977). Completely different from anything seen before in the pages of Brit war comics, El Mestizo was a classic outsider tale, and one of Ezquerra’s favourite creations.

Sadly, Carlos is no longer with us, but you can get the classic El Mestizo collection, 16 dawg-gawn episodes, in the Treaury of British Comics collection.

Born a slave in Alabama, became a bandit in Mexico.

Returned to become the scourge of

the American Civil War!

The very idea of El Mestizo, the slave who escaped to Mexico and then came back for the American Civil War, fighting as a mercenary, taking the jobs only when he felt it was morally right to do so, is a perfect example of what made Battle so different from the British war comics that had gone before. Where older Brit comics tended to concentrate very much on WWII and more often than not from the Allied side, with gung-ho and stiff upper lip Tommys valiantly giving it to the Hun, Battle went deeper into the nature of war, wasn’t afraid to get its hands dirty with the troops and portrayed war more realistically. Yes, it was still an adventure comic, but the range of characters and subjects was far more eclectic, wide-ranging, and hard-hitting.

And like many of the strips in Battle, El Mestizo jumped onboard a popular trend at the time – just as Rat Pack was pulling elements from the Dirty Dozen and Major Eazy was obviously modeled on James Coburn, El Mestizo was a comics callback to the Spaghetti Westerns, albeit set in Civil War era America.

And now, in plague-ridden 2020, we get the chance to experience more EL Mestizo, thanks to the strip from co-creator Alan Hebden and artist Brent McKee!

This is Brent’s first work for either 2000 AD or the Treasury of British Comics, although he’s got plenty of comics under his belt in the US. And with El Mestizo he’s done some stunning work to follow in the footsteps of Carlos Ezquerra – we sat down and chatted to McKee about what it means to be responsible for bringing back such an iconic character from a legendary artist.

Brent, you’re the artist on the new El Mestizo strip to be found in the Battle of Britain Special (coming out on 16 September) – what can we expect from the strip in Battle?

BRENT MCKEE: El Mestizo’s going to be an incredibly fun story and I’m hopeful we’ll get to see more of him in future stories.

Now, you’re a youngster and from the USA, which prompts a couple of questions… how did the gig come to you? And do you know why they came to you – obviously, you’ve got the talent – but was there anything that someone (probably Keith) had seen in your work that they thought would make you a great fit for this?

BM: Yes, I’m from the States (Ohio to be precise) but I have to give you a big THANKS for the “youngster” comment – I’m 46 now! But I’ve been around comics my whole life, my older brother collected. I got serious about it as a career in the mid-80s after reading the “Born Again” Daredevil run by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. Mazzucchelli is my MAIN influence, among Others Toth, Frazetta, and Toby Cypress. 

I live in a really small town with my wife and two kids. I am a graduate of the Joe Kubert School, Joe was my narrative art teacher which was incredibly humbling, he was a brilliant artist.

My breakthrough into comics came from Geoff Johns back in 2003. He came across one of my sample packets and called me at home, to which I believed to be one of my friends playing a joke. After a good laugh, he gave me a shot to do a short story with him for Noble Causes at Image. We even pitched another book after that to Vertigo, This was right before he signed exclusive with DC. I still can’t thank him enough for giving me a chance, really good guy.

As for getting the job for El Mestizo – I received an email from Keith asking if I would be interested in doing a western, to which my answer will always be YES!

I’d done two previous westerns (Outlaw Territory, The Glass Tarantula) and it’s most definitely one of my favorite genres. I spent the majority of my childhood working my grandparents’ cattle farm and spent quite a lot of time trying to convince my grandfather that Clint is better than The Duke (which never happened).

I’m not exactly sure where Keith first saw my work, or what prompted him to think I would be a good fit for El Mestizo. I was approached a few years ago for a chance to work on Judge Dredd, possibly that’s where?

The very first try at El Mestizo by Brent McKee

And when you were approached, being in the US and not being around when the original series was out, had you ever heard of El Mestizo before?

BM: I wasn’t familiar with El Mestizo when approached, but I’ve known of Carlos’s work from a young age. I used to sneak and read my older brothers 2000 ADs as a kid – yes Ed, I went in your room. And I began collecting the Quality reprints later on for the Bolland covers.

The editor of the Battle Special, Keith Richardson, has spoken about always wanting to do a new version of Battle and imagined that he’d be able to do an El Mestizo strip with Carlos Ezquerra (interview in Judge Dredd Megazine 424). Sadly, that just wasn’t to be as we lost Carlos in 2018.

Classic Carlos Ezquerra artwork on the original El Mestizo

And of course, Keith described you own artwork in that interview as fantastic and doing Carlos proud – which is high praise indeed.

But, when it comes to something like this, taking a much-loved, fondly remembered strip created and drawn by one of the greats – how on Earth do you approach it?

BM: There are always nerves when following one of the greats, no getting around that. But the excitement of getting to do a western again outweighed that trepidation. I can only hope that the fans of Carlos and the original Mestizo won’t be disappointed.

I don’t think they will. Like Keith, I think you’ve done a fantastic job on El Mestizo and one that adds to the legacy of the character.

In terms of getting ready to make the El Mestizo strips, I presume you were using the originals as reference?

BM: Yes, after saying yes, yes, yes to the job, Keith sent me reference materials and I looked up as much as I could online. But it wasn’t just stepping into Carlos’ shoes that made me a little nervous, there was also the format for the Battle Special (which is different to what we use here in the States) as well as the number of panels per page that made me a little nervous. Most US books top out at around six panels per page, so working on a shorter strip in a different format definitely changed my normal approach to storytelling.

In fact, what was your awareness of British comics as a whole before doing this strip? Were you aware of the likes of Battle, Action, 2000 AD?

BM: My awareness of British comics revolves mainly around Dredd. But I was heavily influenced by British comic creators, Alan Davis, Brian Bolland, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Simon Bisley – the classics!

Let’s get a little into process here, how do you go about constructing a page? Are you traditional pencils and inks on board or more digital?

BM: When I first approach a project, I read and re-read the script pages. Then I start with the first page and break it down by panels, decide how to pace the page, which panel is most important to that page. 

I do quick thumbnails, add notes, then do full-size roughs and then go to pencils. I work almost entirely traditional, pencil on paper then I ink over that mainly with brush (Raphael Kolinsky 8404 #3).

Recently, I’ve have been adding touch-ups in Procreate after I scan in the originals. For El Mestizo I added mainly zipatone textures. I hadn’t had actual zipatone in years, and it’s been fun to be able to add that feel to my pages again.

El Mestizo page 1 thumbnails by Brent McKee
And that same El Mestizo page 1 after pencils and inks by Brent McKee

Having done the El Mestizo strip, what can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?

BM: I’m currently working on Airboy with Chuck Dixon for Its Alive Press (revived from his 1980s run), and Redshift with H.S. Tak for Scout Comics (a science-based fiction set in the future on Mars coming out 2021).

After my run on Redshift ends later this year, I plan on focusing on my own book, The Oceans Daughter and the Constellation Orion. I’ve been writing and re-writing it for a few years and I believe it will be my defining work in comics.

Battle of Britain Special 2020 – web-exclusive cover by Keith Burns

Thank you so much to Brent for chatting with us. You can find his artwork for El Mestizo in the Battle of Britain Special, out on 16 September. Get it from the 2000 AD or Treasury of British Comics web shops to get hold of that incredible web-exclusive cover from Keith Burns.

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You can find out more at Brent’s Instagram, Twitter, and of course, remember to check out his Patreon.

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Battle of Britain Special – Rob Williams & PJ Holden talk Destroyer

Battle was one of the most ground-breaking of a whole raft of British war comics, but it’s now been more than 30 years since it was on the shelves. But that’s all changing with the publication of the Battle of Britain Special from the Treasury of British Comics on 16 September!

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As well as 30 years since the end of Battle, It’s also 80 years since the Battle of Britain, hence the title for this new Rebellion & Treasury of British Comics special.

The Battle of Britian Special is a celebration of the art of war comics, but also mixes in srtips with depth and understanding, reflecting on those lost as well as all that was won.

And one of these strips is Destroyer by Rob Williams and PJ Holden – we caught up with them to talk about the strip and the legacy of war comics.

Rob, PJ, The Battle of Britain Special comes out on 16 September, this very week in fact, and inside you have a tale called Destroyer.

So, first things first, what’s it all about?

ROB WILLIAMS: Destroyer is largely based on the true story of HMS Campbeltown, which was an old, ex-US Navy WW1 destroyer that the British packed with explosives and sent to to try and ram the Dry Dock at St Nazaire. It’s one of the crazy, you can’t believe it’s true, ‘Death Star’ run-style World War 2 stories. This immensely well defended military port was about to house the Tirpitz, and if it did, the German battleship could have changed the course of the war in the North Atlantic. So some bright spark decided to drive in the front door at night and try and knock out the dry dock so there was nowhere for the Tirpitz to be repaired on Atlantic coast. Incredible bravery.

Yes, that whole saga of a supposedly jinxed old destroyer on a mission like this, it really is one of those you simply couldn’t make it up tales. 

In previous eras, it might have been covered somewhat differently, the comics before Battle came out would have focused on the success of the operation. Whereas those original Battle tales and in Destroyer, you’ve delivered all the sense of adventure but tempered it with the terrible realities AND the wonderful sense of camaraderie of the trio of sailors you use as your everymen.

RW: It’s a lot to try and do in 8 pages. Perhaps too much. The raid itself could have been a 20-page comic, easily. But for me the Campbeltown was this exciting underdog tale. A jinxed, rather outdated little destroyer and her crew ends up playing a huge role in stopping one of the great battleships of World War 2.

And, of course, because the St Nazaire raid was true and a lot of sailors and commandos died, you want to try and do justice to the young men who must have been scared out of their wits the night of the assault, but still went through with the raid. It’s, hopefully, a respectful doff of the cap.

Oh, I think it is, I really do.

RW: Yes, it’s a successful mission, but not the way anyone expected, and there’s a heavy price to be paid. Of the 621 men who went on the mission only 227 returned home. So, you want this to be an emotional journey and not just a factual info dump.

Now, presumably, putting together this sort of tale relies on a lot of research Rob, getting those little things right?

RW: a bit, yes. There’s an excellent documentary on the Campbeltown raid that Garth Ennis pointed me towards and that helped. And then it was doing some internet research. I’m a bit of a World War II military history reader anyway, so this was all the type of thing I enjoy reading about anyway. But you have to try and do due diligence when dealing with real events, even if our three lead characters are fictionalised.

We did change one aspect of the story though. In reality, the Campbeltown’s bridge was shot up and the officer who planted the explosives ended up taking the wheel as everyone else was hit, and he steered it into the dry dock wall. We’ve taken some artistic license there.

However, compared to the plight of the poor artist, you have it pretty easy, right? Just a couple of google searches and it’s all there? Poor old PJ has to get the really important stuff down just right – all of that visual research?

RW: PJ’s had war reference beaten into him by Ennis on their various excellent war stories. So he’s a dab hand at this stuff now.

I was amazed when Peej came out with exact depictions of the Tirpitz and Campbeltown. He’s done a terrific job on the story. Both in terms of the action and the humanity of our three leads. It’s one of PJ’s best, I think.

PJ HOLDEN: YES. I’m glad it’s finally acknowledged just how much more work an artist puts in than a writer.

Oh sure, “Then the big boat hits the other big boat. PS I dunno its name” is enough to pass muster for the script droid, but now I’ve gotta go away and find these bloody boats.

And finding a picture isn’t as easy as you think, not all of these ships have photos, sometimes you’ll end up having to find out their history in order to find the name of their sister ship which MIGHT have a photo somewhere, and then you’ll be faced with trying to work out what size they look in relation to each other (because there’s never a photo of the incident) and then you’ll sometimes need to figure out exactly how the ship crashes, you’ll make some basic assumptions and then you’ll go off and find an accident report that details that it was hit in the port or starboard side (and then you’ll remember you don’t know anything about boats and you can’t tell which is port and which is starboard) and and and and…

Anyway, it is properly exhausting. 

I don’t think I was daunted by it, I’m just stupid enough to forget how hard the last war comic is that I think “Oh I’d like to draw more war stuff!”. Frankly, if I had the memory capacity I’d probably throw my tools down in disgust and vow to never draw another war story again.

(Also: getting the chance to work with Rob is always lovely, hopefully we’ll get to do more things together)

And as far as the most difficult thing about doing this sort of comic, I suppose it’s getting the right tone. After all, we’re dealing with real men here, real deaths, families that will be affected.

PJH: Well, now I feel bad about the last rant. Yeah, these are real incidents. I think my approach was to get the art as accurate (in terms of period feel, accuracy of vehicles, etc) as I was able, while trying to pay homage to the Battle comic (because this is still an action/adventure comic).

As it happens, when I was about 14 I started working in a computer shop that had begun life as a radio shop started by two veterans of the Merchant Navy’s war. It was something they never talked about, but there was humour there. So that was always in the back of my head too. They went to war as kids effectively and no doubt saw some horrors.

RW: I read HMS Nightshade before writing this, which is an absolutely superb work by John Wagner and Mike Western from Battle‘s heyday. That was a touchstone for the tone we’re taking here. Hopefully respectful. The sense of the cost of war.

Oh yes, it’s mentioned in the Battle interview piece by Karl Stock (Judge Dredd Megazine issue 424) that you were originally thinking of doing an HMS Nightshade story but were sort of warned off it by Garth Ennis?

RW: Ha, not warned off per se. I said I was thinking of doing HMS Nightshade and Garth said that was brave as he believes it might well be John Wagner‘s finest work. I read it and saw what he meant. Nightshade is also a definite story with a start-middle-end. It didn’t need a Johnny-come-lately telling one more episode. Garth absolutely loves Battle and has a vast knowledge of it, so he was a good sounding board for me.

Given the small number of pages you have here to properly tell the Cambeltown’s story, how do you go about getting the right mix of storytelling to move the events along, the laughing and joking of your three ‘everyman’ sailors, and the terrible tragedy.

RW: As I said, it’s probably a bit over ambitious to try and carry all those things in an 8-pager. The setup, the stakes, the characters and then the mission. It’s a testament to PJ’s skill that we’re cramming a lot into those mission pages and he makes it all clear.

PJH: I think this largely plays to my strengths so it didn’t feel tough to go from awful battles to goofy people. One of the key things, I think, was getting the rendering right – get that right and I think people will give you more leeway on how cartoony you can get, and cartoony faces can read much more directly to a reader, you feel a more direct connection to them when you can feel their emotional state from their faces.

For instance, on page four, there’s that sequence first of OS Owen – ‘Filthy Owen’ getting knocked overboard when an unfortunate coaster ship collides with the Jinxtown and sinks. He’s fine, but his thoughts of the men desperately attempting to escape the coaster as it sunk.

But that’s nothing to just a few panels on. First you give us that little bit of lightness in the pub and the teasing of the ‘Jinxtown lot’, but immediately after that, it goes very, very dark very quickly as Owen describes the after-effects of a torpedo hit and what happens all that fuel goes up. Hideous. And, of course, all of this plays grimly with the events that play out.

PJH: I suspect lots of this falls to how much information we’ve gotta cram in, and Rob is the real star on that front (we chat often and he would apologise about just how much stuff we’re covering in those scant 8 pages).

But you know, you get the script and you try and make it work so it doesn’t feel jarring, of course dialogue and captions (and the lettering generally) all plays a part.

PJ’s thumbnails for the first 6 (of 8) pages for Destroyer

You’ve obviously got a love of drawing these gorgeous wartime comics, having recently worked with Garth Ennis on Stringbags.

PJH: Well, like Garth, and Rob, I grew up reading war stories, and watching B&W war movies on the telly. I had no particular loyalty to any genre, but war stories in Warlord, Battle and Commando were more readily available to me than superhero stories (and even when 2000 AD showed up, as much as I loved it, I REALLY loved it when Rogue Trooper introduced future war!)

PJ, you’ve recently seen Stringbags published with Garth Ennis, a similar theme of air battle rather than sea – what’s the difference between working on that larger, full-length graphic novel and working here on just a few pages to get across the entire story?

PJH: Well, there’s a practical difference, Stringbags (and strictly speaking it’s air-sea battles!) was drawn over a year so there’s always a shift in your art style, stuff moves and changes as you’re style develops or you find shortcuts, whereas with Destroyer I knew exactly how I wanted it to look – I wanted the feel of textured paper, originally it was to be coloured, but I think seeing the rendering Rob and I both felt it would work in B&W.

I’ll come clean: the rendering is mostly me applying a thumbprint brush, adding and removing texture, the entire strip was inked digitally, some may consider that cheating… I don’t.

I’ve absolutely fallen in love with rendering water. I’d love another sea-based strip to get good at it.

Yes, I was going to mention the water – seriously, there’s some beautifully drawn water in Destroyer. How do you make that look so darned great?

PJH: Go to the masters, Dave Gibbons, Mike McMahon, Joe Colquhoun and more, steal from them, and try not to do a terrible job of it.

How gutting is it, in a limited page count story such as Destroyer, to do something quite so spectacularly beautiful and impressive as that image of the Cambeltown ploughing through rough seas on page 2 and not be able to show it as a splash page, or at the least a half-page panel?

PJH: Well, thank you for that! I’m not sure if the strip was longer I might have drawn in a slightly different style and it may not have looked so impressive – the rendering I used here well, while not labour intensive, certainly felt right for a short strip – if it was 176 pages of that rendering it might have become tiring. Sometimes less is more.

And I have to say, there’s a moment in Destroyer where I reckon you’ve absolutely captured the epitome of what I imagine a WWII commando would look like – something that’s right out of the Action Man/ Airfix toys mold.

PJH: Haha, that was a fun panel to do, and I think again if the strip had been longer I don’t know if we’d have had a panel like that – it’s trying to convey a film montage as much as a single bit of action. (And look, I’m taking all of these complements, and I’m allowing my brain to accept them as true and valid, but I do so knowing full well that if I take a look at the art I’ll find myself vehemently disagreeing!)

A chance to look at both PJ’s pencils for Destroyer and the finished page

PJ, you were a Warlord fan as a kid, right?

Oh yeah, proper Warlord fan, member of the fan club – wrote a letter with a joke, which I stole from an even older Lion annual, I think – two sailors staring into sea – beyond them, floating towards them a vision of a mine looms in to view – “MINE!” shouts one sailor, “YOU CAN KEEP IT!” shouts the other.

Firstly, let me publicly apologise for the stealing of that joke – though it never got accepted in Warlord – but it could be what scuppered me was writing the entire thing in the Warlord code – a simple rot13 cypher – or the Caesar cypher – I assumed a huddled group of die-hard Warlord veterans would see this encoded message, crack the code, guffaw at my charming telling, commission an artist to draw it and then run it the following week. But it was more likely a tired editor saw this letter come in, written in gibberish and just binned it.

Okay, finally, would you be hoping to tell more tales for Battle if/when we get to see another Special or something more coming from the Treasury of British Comics?

RW: Absolutely. This Special’s a fantastic package. It’d be fantastic to do more. And there’s a good few of us comic creators who love telling war stories but we don’t often get the chance to scratch that itch.

PJH: Oh absolutely. Once we did this, I saw something, I think it was a documentary or something, I saw the PERFECT subject for another Destroyer strip – and phoned Rob and told him about it, something I don’t remember seeing covered in anything else before.

And whilst on the subject of the future, would there be any classic Battle series that you’d fancy a crack at?

RW: Anything aircraft related. I’d give Johnny Red a go, I guess.

PJH: I think Keith has all the classic stuff well covered, if anything I’d love the chance to come up with something entirely new for Battle, and you know, one of the virtues of the Destroyer strip – is that it can be about anything as long as it includes a destroyer…

Absolutely – and hopefully, we’ll be seeing Rob and PJ collaborating on another Destroyer strip in the future. But our thanks to Rob & PJ for talking to us about Destroyer. It’s one of the stand-outs in this Battle Special and well worth checking out!

The Battle of Britain Special comes out on 16 September – get hold of your copy through the web shop and get the gorgeous Keith Burns web exclusive cover!

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Interview: Dave Taylor On The All-New World Of Megatropolis

It’s 30 years since the first issue of the Judge Dredd Megazine and, with issue #424, there’s a ghafflebette line-up of strips to celebrate those 30 years!

We get John Wagner, Colin MacNeil, and Dan Cornwell returning to the legacy of America Jara in Judge Dredd, we have a 20-page Lawless musical (yes, full-on musical!) from Dan Abnett and Phil Winslade, a one-off Anderson strip from Maura McHugh and Steven Austin, and the start of Dreadnaughts, a stunning new strip from the earliest days of the Justice Department from Michael Carroll and John Higgins.

But there’s also the Scrotnig surprise of Megatropolis by Kenneth Niemand and Dave Taylor, an alt-timeline Mega-City One, where the cops are all corrupt except a certain Detective Joe Rico.

We caught up with artist Dave Taylor to talk about Megatropolis and just what it’s like creating this new, familiarly unfamiliar world…

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Megatropolis promises us an art deco retro-future variation of all we know about MC-1 and the first episode absolutely delivers all that, with Dave Taylor’s artwork giving us a sumptuous mix of all that art deco style and corrupt underworld of this all-new MC-1.

In this first episode, Joe Rico, ‘the choirboy’ according to his fellow cops, gets his new partner – Amy Jara. We have Mayor Booth and District Attorney McGruder facing off with each other, we have the tragic death, at Jara’s hands, of one young PJ Maybre, and the news announced by a certain Hershey Barbs. It’s definitely a very different, very striking version of the MC-1 we all know, and so much of that is down to the art of Taylor.

Okay then, hi Dave – your new strip, Megatropolis, kicks off in the 30th anniversary Megazine, issue 424, and it really looks stunning!

First things first, how did it all come about and how did you get involved with it?

Dave Taylor: As far as I can make out, the idea came as a gift from the stars. One of those moments of inspiration that forces you to wonder why someone hadn’t thought of it before, it being such a fantastic concept.

I certainly thought “Holy Shit!” when I got the message from Tharg. The thought behind offering the script to me I think was based on my Batman: Death by Design book in which I showed that I’m not scared of drawing cities! That book also gave me an education in the design aesthetics of the ’30s, something that was needed for Megatropolis.

How many parts will we see with Megatropolis this time round and will we be seeing further series from you and Kenneth in the future?

DT: It’s an 8-part story; a complete and self-contained story that could very easily become an ongoing series, if the folks like it, which they will because it’s bloody awesome! That’s just a fact and not in any way egotistical on my part.

And whilst we’re mentioning the infamously reclusive Mr Niemand, how did you find working together?

DT: Ken and I live on a Kibbutz, so we see each other on a regular basis. He showed me the best method of picking fruit and vegetables, which hand to favour, and all the special equipment he’s so masterly gifted with. I can barely keep up with him, he’s a whirlwind. Working with Ken is like working with a true genius. He’s an enigma.

Now, the meat of this – let’s talk about what it takes to design something so familiar and yet so completely different to MC-1.

DT: I think my understanding and love of the visual history of Mega-City One (a genuine fan since ’77) gave me the ability to place that setting into a different universe without losing the feel of the original.

I don’t think I ever thought I should turn down the 30’s feel for fear of losing that original essence, it came out naturally, in most part because of the script and the characters involved, who also hopefully feel both new and familiar to the reader. I did find myself occasionally wanting to add something very typically MC-1 in style, something to gently remind us where we are. That happened a few times. It’s more likely than not that I did that occasionally because I was missing drawing the real/original city a little, pining for the nut job crazy shit that I love to draw.

I’m assuming that there’s been a hell of a lot of worldbuilding going on with this one before it got anywhere near the finished page? What sort of things have gone into the creation of Megatropolis?

DT: A fair amount of the work had been done with the Batman Death by Design book, in that my memory banks were still full of 30’s New York and Chicago architecture and all the other design elements a convincing world needs. That was a huge advantage and a great stepping off point for me.

DT: I was very familiar with the Metropolis movie and other like-minded films of that period, something that Kenny stressed to me as an important reference for this book. What was new to me was designing air-cars that looked right for this. I can draw an MC-1 vehicle with my eyes closed, some would say I always do, but coming up with the right vehicles for this gig was a challenge.

You might ask why is there a late ’70s fastback Mustang in there? Well, firstly because it’s the most badass shit hot car money can buy, and our hero needed a badass shit hot air-car in place of a Lawmaster, and secondly because I’d argue (and probably will have to) that the look of those muscle cars was born in the ’30s.

I’m seeing so many different elements in here – there’s the entire retro vibe of those delicious roadsters, the 30s/40s look of the plain-clothes cops, the organic stylings of the tech, there’s even something almost Geiger-esque in the shantytown pipework. And so much more I’m sure, feel free to go through so many of the aspects of it all!

DT: What we consider “contemporary design” today was conceived back in the late ’20s and into the ’30s. Those sleek silver shapes, those gentle gliding curves, those bold dramatic expressions in metal and concrete were all born 100 years ago. I’ve tried to capture all of that in this book, that design lost in time thing is fascinating.

I can’t think of one outside influence on this book, to be honest. I wanted to make this as original as I could, and having been so delighted with the idea of working in this “why hasn’t someone thought of it before” unique universe I wanted it to be completely me, or this version of me.

One thing that’s wonderful to see when we’re talking about process with artists, is to actually see a bit of process as well as talk about it. What’s your process for going from concept through to the finished page with Megatropolis?

(Taylor’s preliminary work for Joe Rico)

DT: My process on this is pretty much the same as I’ve been using for many years, with some adaptations. When comics publishing reached the point where artwork could be digitally scanned in place of being photographed, way back in the 90s, I jumped at the opportunity of producing something that retained the pencil line without being traditionally inked.

There’s something earthy and natural about the pencil that ink can not mimic.

(More Joe Rico from Dave)

Megatropolis needed to be gritty, and there’s nothing more gritty than a 5B pencil. I draw little “thumbnail” impressions of each page, no more than 3×2 inches, then expand those rough ideas onto the full-size paper (17x11inch) using a blue pencil, then “ink” the page with both HB and 5B graphite pencils. Then I move into the 21st Century by using a “computer” to add the colour. I’ve used a muted natural pallet for this book to help make it feel more real, and to give room to more dynamic colour when the story requires it.

It’s not rocket science. Rocket science is now outdated thanks to “captured” flying saucers.

Thanks to Dave for chatting to me, always great to hear his ideas and see how they get to the page. And in the spirit of that, Dave sent over a full page of his pencils/inks for Megatropolis, letting us show you both that and the final page 4 printed in the Megazine.

You can get hold of Megazine Issue 424 from 16 September in the 2000 AD web shop!

(Megatropolis Page 4 – pencil/inks from Dave Taylor)
(And the glorious final page 4 from Megatropolis by Dave Taylor)