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Interview: Dan Abnett & Richard Elson on Feral & Foe series two

With 2000 AD Prog 2224, Dan Abnett and Richard Elson are bringing us the second season of their fantasy epic with a difference – Feral & Foe.

Although after the ending of season one, getting Wrath and Bode back is a BIG surprise…

Running in 2000 AD Progs 2162-2174 , Feral & Foe is the fantasy tale of Necromancer Bode and warrior Wrath, two unfortunate former evil minions of the defeated Malign Lord. It’s five years after the Last-of-All-War, the Malign Lord’s plan to eradicate humanity failed and the land is now full of those who used to be part of his army of darkness, all of them, Wrath and Bode included, fleeing retribution from the Wretchfinders.

With a choice between being declared Feral & Foe and sentenced to execution, or working for the Wretchfinders in capturing their own, Bode and Wrath choose to keep their heads and set off on a new life filled with dangers, misadventures, lots of magical action and a fair few laughs.

And now, it’s time for season two… but be warned… you’re not going to find out just how Feral & Foe come back here, far too spoilery and fun to get to be shocked and amazed when you read it in 2000 AD Prog 2224!

(The opener to Feral & Foe II – getting on with things in 2000 AD Prog 2224)

Feral & Foe returns this April for its second season. I suppose the first thing to ask is for something of a recap and summary of what the strip is all about.

Dan Abnett: Feral & Foe is savage fantasy… two main characters who were on the losing (and evil) side of a “Great Fantasy War” who have to become collaborators and work with the ‘good’ guys. It’s not redemption, it’s survival. There was a lot of fun world-building for this, deliberately playing with and subverting all the classic fantasy tropes. I came up with the idea in response to what Rich wanted to draw, and I think we devised something that’s recognisably high fantasy yet is entirely its own thing. Strong streak of horror in it too.

With your previous strips, weve talked of the top line of the series, the simple series pitch, with me describing Brink as True Detective meets Outland” and you describing The Out as A love letter to the SF book-jacket art we grew up with.” So what about Feral & Foe?

DA: Feral & Foe is (tritely) “what happens when the Lord of the Rings is over, Sauron’s dead, and you’re an Ork”.

Now, in terms of this second series, the big question after the final episode of series one is how the hell are you managing to get a second series out of it? After all, the final page of the final episode was prettywell… FINAL.

DA: It really was.  It was a massive and – essentially – uncontrolled magical conflagration.

The beginning of the end in season one of Feral & Foe – the ‘massive and – essentially – uncontrolled magical conflagration’ that Abnett mentions.

DA: It would be far too easy to use ‘magic’ as a get out of jail free card… our heroes have survived thanks to ‘magic reasons’ and can continue their adventures. But that is, kind of, the only way out… so I thought if it had to be magic, then it also had to be complicated. It had to be ’magic with massive consequences’. 

Once I thought of an unexpected way of doing that, I felt I had a story that was worth pitching, and that Feral & Foe could continue.

Thus, without spoiling anything, this ‘season’ goes off on a very unusual tangent and literally mixes everything up, to comedic, horrific and “high adventure” effect…

Richard Elson: To say that I was delighted with the way Dan solved this conundrum is an understatement. I am having the time of my life drawing series 2 of Feral & Foe. It has taken me no time at all to grow immensely fond of our little group of characters and when I got the script for part one of this series I genuinely laughed out loud at the brilliance of what Dan was doing. I’m hoping that the readers will be as massively entertained as I have been by the direction that the story has taken.

So, given that we are getting a second series, what can we expect from this one? How many episodes here? What direction are you taking it?

DA: Essentially, this series is the same sort of length as the first, and like the first it has a significant meta-story that is explored through episodic stories. It also become something of a quest, leaning heavily into the tropes of ‘lonely questing fellowships on a mission’ found in classic fantasy and mythology, with a knowing nod to role playing adventures like Dungeons and Dragons. We expose some deeper lore of the world, and – most of all – there is significant development for the main characters.

(More from Feral & Foe II – with a retelling going on in Prog 2224)

What responses have you had to the first series of Feral & Foe?

DA: Resoundingly approving… which gave us the confidence to do more (and think up a way of getting out of the apparently inescapable ending of the first season).

In relation to creating new series such as Feral & Foe with Richard or The Out with Mark Harrison, did you have a plan of working together already?

DA: I have good, long-standing working relationship with Rich, as I have with Mark on The Out, Ian on Brink and Phil on Lawless. Feral & Foe was created specifically FOR Rich. We always discuss what they (the artists) are dying to draw, what interests them, and how that could become a story. Lots of collaboration and brainstorming, which I think makes for a strong strip.

Rich delighted me with the ideas he’s thrown back in response to my outlines and Feral & Foe has grown way beyond initial imaginings because of that brainstorming.

Rich and I have been working on Kingdom for a long time. It’s a very popular strip, a bit of 2K mainstay, and we love it.   Since the early days, we agreed that we’d only produce new Kingdom stories when Rich was free (from other jobs) to work on it: it wouldn’t be a strip that continued with other artists when he was busy.  So, we kind of do a series a year, roughly. When we assembled to plan the next Kingdom run I was a little undecided where to take Gene’s story next (I usually know well in advance, but I was less sure this time). When we talked, it became clear that Rich had a real ‘sword and sorcery’ itch he wanted to scratch. So I suggested we did something new for a change. Try something brand new for a ‘season’ to have a bit of fun and exercise creativity in a different direction.

Feral & Foe was the result of me listening to Rich’s ‘ingredient list’ and coming up with a framework to contain all the various things he was excited by. It actually happened very fast…we were up and running within a few weeks of deciding to rest Kingdom and do something else. I think you can feel that freshness and renewed vigour in that first series. It just got us fired up really quickly and we went for it.

With Feral & Foe, both Rich and I assumed we were on the starting line for another book of Kingdom, and then suddenly we were doing something else. It was like a last-minute holiday, booked at short notice because we suddenly realised we had a long weekend free. Entirely spontaneous and ‘what the hell’. I don’t know which is better – finally getting to go on that dream holiday you’ve been planning for years, or suddenly going off on an unplanned vacation at the drop of the hat.

(Still more from Feral & Foe II – and no, I’m not revealing how they survived – you need to get Prog 2224 for that!)

Richard, as with most people, youve already worked with Dan (the most prolific writer around perhaps?) on Avatar and, more recently, Kingdom. How does this successful collaboration work for all concerned?

RICHARD ELSON: Working with Dan is a total joy. He is a really top bloke, brimming with great ideas and his work rate is inhuman. Having said that, I always feel like he’s investing a lot of energy, enthusiasm and passion into whatever it is that we are working on together.

Back when Dan came up with the original idea for Feral & Foe, we had a long phone call where he filled me in on his ideas for the story. Matt and I both chipped in with suggestions and preferences. I did a sheet of designs, with notes on things I thought might be visually interesting to add into the mix, while Dan came back with a more polished draft which got the green light and (as with any new series) we’ve been incrementally evolving it as we’re working away on it.

In terms of the look for Feral & Foe, what dictated the style you adopted for it?

RE: Environments are pretty important to Feral & Foe, so there’s a bit more in the way of elaborate scene setting than usual. The ambient atmosphere (in my mind) is kind of mythical, murky and Brothers Grimm/Arthur Rackham-ish and smells really bad.

I’m going to have to try and find a way of getting all of that into the drawings, but it’ll no doubt end up looking like my regular stuff.

Richard, whats your process for creating Feral & Foe, how are you working?

RE: The art is all done digitally, in Photoshop. I think there’s a slight change to the line quality part way through this series as I switch to using a cintiq 24 pro, from the cintiq 13 that I was previously using. I’m much happier with the look of the work from that point on. Trying to get a finish that I am happy with, working digitally, is an ongoing process for me; I hope I’m getting closer using my current set up.

The entire Elson process in four easy steps from page two of the first episode of Feral & Foe season two!

RE: I always approach my pages in the same way; I start with a small thumbnail, to layout the panels, then proceed to a blue line rough to choreograph the figures, a redline pencil to tighten up any bits that might need a bit of work before inks and finally, colours. You can see the separate stages in page two of the first episode.

We’ve included those four stages above as a quartet of images and at the end of this interview as four separate images – all the better to see all the details of Richard’s art.

Finally, what are your future plans, both with Feral & Foe and with new strips coming up this year?

DA: Feral and Foe wil keep Rich and me occupied for a little while yet. Beyond it, from me, you can expect more Brink, more of The Out, the bloodstained continuation of Bulletopia in Sinister Dexter (or should that be Dexter?), and, of course, Lawless blazes on in the Megazine. It’s interesting (and healthy, I hope) that in each case, including Feral and Foe, the status quo of each strip changes significantly… perhaps forever. There are some big twists, surprises and revelations in store.

RE: I’m not exactly sure what I will be doing when Feral & Foe part 2 ends. Hopefully, something pops up (it usually does, fortunately), but I have nothing definite at the moment.

Yep, I reckon there’s definitely going to be something that crops up for Richard – he’s too good not to have some art out there!

And a huge thank you to both Dan and Richard for taking the time to answer those questions.

You can find the new series of Feral & Foe kicking off in 2000 AD Prog 2224.

Now, those four individual stages of Richard putting together page two of the first part of this second season of Feral & Foe that we promised you…

And finally from us, you can also see more of Richard Elson’s process of putting his art together with his Covers Uncovered piece for the Feral & Foe cover to 2000 AD Prog 2163 here as well as his Judge Dredd vs Shako cover for 2000 AD Prog 2192 here.

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Talking Thistlebone – ‘Disquieting, atmospheric & beguiling, punctuated with stabs of genuine horror’

Back in June 2019, Thistlebone blew into the pages of 2000 AD like a chill North wind, bringing a creepy and deliciously dark folk horror tale to life thanks to writer TC Eglington and artist Simon Davis.

That first series is being released as a collection on 29 April, but before then we have the beginning of Thistlebone Book Two: Poisoned Roots in 2000 AD Prog 2221, out on 3 March.

Time to take a deep breath and step back into the horror as we chat to TC Eglington and Simon Davis about folk horror, creating something to terrify, and what it means to revisit Thistlebone

(Art by Simon Davis from Thistlebone Book One.
If you go down to the woods today…)

Tom, Simon, Thistlebone returns this spring with the second series, Poisoned Roots – presumably bringing back all the horrors we experienced in the first series.

Now, just for those who perhaps haven’t caught up, or for those waiting for the collection (out on 29 April!), can you give us a quick catch-up for series one?

TC EGLINGTON: Thistlebone is a folk horror tale following the story of Avril, a woman who survived an abduction from a bizarre cult as a child. Decades later she is drawn back to the woods where she experienced her ordeal. Disturbing memories and dark forces stir as she recalls her past.

We tried to create something disquieting, atmospheric and beguiling with Thistlebone, punctuated with stabs of genuine horror. It is realistic, but there are aspects that have a dreamlike quality as the reader experiences sections of the first story through Avril’s viewpoint, memories that are distorted by her confused mental state. Simon’s artwork was been perfect for this, as his style conveys mood so well.

(… You’re sure of a big surprise.
More deliciously dark goings-on from the woods in Thistlebone Book One)

SIMON DAVIS:  Yes, everything Tom said. I have a love of the genre that’s referred to as Folk Horror…one inextricably linked to nature, isolation and the old ways. We hadn’t worked together before yet shared a love of the genre and get on well, so this seemed the perfect opportunity to create something new together.

Hopefully it was unsettling. Because of modern society’s general disconnect from the natural world…food production, species depletion etc… I feel that nature holds a lot of primal fears for the modern city dweller. I think setting the first story in the overpowering presence of a forest already creates a feeling of unease and oppressiveness. It’s a folk-horror story in a lot of ways…the fear of modern industrialisation, myth and fear.

(Thistlebone: Poisoned Roots Part 1 – from 2000 AD Prog 2221)

And now, what can we expect from this new series of Thistlebone? After all, anyone that’s already seen the conclusion to the first series would imagine that the book was pretty definitively closed on Avril’s experiences with the Thistlebone cult. So how on Earth have you managed to continue the tale – do you grab a thread from the first series or does it head off in some new and horrific direction?

TCE: With the new series of Thistlebone, we follow Seema, the journalist responsible for persuading Avril to return to Harrowvale in the first series. When an archaeological discovery at the centre of the woods reveals ancient skeletons killed in ceremonial methods, Seema is drawn back into the mysteries surrounding the Thistlebone cult. The more she digs into the past, the more she reveals the malignant roots of the cult, ultimately putting her own life at risk.

SD: I think Tom and I had such fun on the first series, we felt a second was a good idea. It seemed to go down well and find a home with the readers. The first was a self-contained story but also within that there is scope to continue. Because the premise is bound up with history and that the land has born witness to a multitude of civilisations and will do so again is a very potent way to frame the present day. We are just a little and brief connect with a place and the awareness of that is fertile ground for storytelling.

(Thistlebone: Poisoned Roots Part 1 – from 2000 AD Prog 2221)

TCE: Chronologically, it follows the events of the previous series, but there is more explanation of the past.

It is a story of the old traumas of the land haunting the present, which seemed an apt theme for a modern folk horror tale. Seema is at the centre of that. Unlike Avril, she is a rational person caught up in an obsession for truth, but encounters disturbing beliefs that challenge her own views. She confronts the differing perspectives of Hillman, Malcolm Kinniburgh, and Avril in an effort to find answers, but is only drawn deeper into the horror.

I think with this story, I wanted to create a layering of events, a sort of fictional psychogeography for Harrowvale to give it more depth. The influence of those distant terrors echo throughout the story in bizarre and disturbing ways.

Are we looking at another 10-parter here?

TCE: This series is 12 episodes, giving us a bit more room to explore the characters, landscape and nightmares of Thistlebone.

(There’s lots of marvellous things to eat and wonderful games to play, beneath the trees where nobody sees…
you really don’t want to be part of this trip into the woods – from Thistlebone Book One)

In the first series, we saw an exploration of the isolation of rural life, the insular nature of it all, and the inevitable reliance on, respect for, and sometimes something akin to a worship of nature and the old ways.

It was also a series that used the already damaged/fragile mental state of Avril to tell the story through a single character’s perceptions, often distorted and unreliable, something that really works wonderfully well when you settle down and read it all in one go (did we mention there’s a collection out in April?)

SD: Tom wrote that really well in the first series and the feeling of the unreliability of memory continues in the new story…but for a different character.

It is my role as the artist to add elements of this into the visuals too…incidents vary and change depending who’s telling the story which hopefully achieves a state where , as a reader, you don’t really trust any of the characters to be a reliable witness to what’s actually happened in the past or in what is happening now.

TCE: A lot of the horror of Thistelbone is rooted in beliefs and the power beliefs have over us. There is also the psychological unease of the landscape’s effect on people. And there is, of course, some outright visceral terror. It helped to have Avril as an unreliable protagonist, which allowed us to have imagery in there that hovered between the real and imagined.

(You can feel the shiver running down your spine… from Thistlebone Book One)

Tom, one very creepy aspect of Thistlebone was the idea of the speech patterns of the cult shifting into the speech patterns of other characters, never more chilling than that moment one of the kids appears to speak in tongues.

TCE: I was fascinated with the idea of glossolalia, and how to convey audible hallucinations in comic form. It linked nicely to a piece of experimental writing I had tried years ago. I had been playing around with William Burroughs cut-up technique, but I took it a step further and cut up words into smaller and smaller chunks. I would take famous passages and use pairs of letters from each word in a sentence to compress it down. It created this sort of jumbled proto-language, an uncanny babble that feels familiar in parts but is also just distortion. It feels a bit more realistic than trying to write an approximation of glossolalia, especially since I could take famous sayings and use that as my source. I could then play around with it to give that feeling of meaning emerging from it.

With the second series I use it once again, and there are some weird coded messages I mixed in, partly for my own amusement. The original idea also has a slightly tenuous folk horror connection, too. I had been struck by a line in a book about a myth that human language had been seeded from the sounds of rivers, and that was what I was trying to create with this invented degraded language. I had notebooks with pages of this babble written in it.

I have proper hobbies now. 

Despite the first series being just 10 parts, a mere 50 story pages, it’s a collection that reads a lot longer. Partly this is because Simon has constructed his pages in such a way, it seems to me, to be open and expansive, yet cleverly contain so much, allowing there to be far more going on in a short tale than would otherwise be the case.

SD: Yes , the visual side of it was always going to be something that I would try and make quite dense. 50 pages isn’t very long but to describe a story by how many pages it is is not necessarily a fair one. Hopefully we’ve packed it with ideas and visuals that will permeate far beyond the actual storyline.

TCE: With the first series, it was a very conscious decision to give Simon’s art space to breath, yet tell a compelling and nuanced story. Atmosphere is everything in folk horror, and the imagery was key to creating something unique. While some of the tropes of folk horror are there, we tried to push it in a different direction.

Where did the inspiration for Thistlebone come from? Was it something rooted in where you grew up, that sense of the rural English landscape and people?

SD: Yes. Tom and I have a love for the countryside and nature. I live in East London but only moved here at 40. Before that I lived in villages in Warwickshire and Worcestershire so have a deep love for all things rural. So, when putting together we had long chats, went for a ramble in some woods and Tom sent me synopses to hone it from there.

TCE: The inspiration for Thistlebone came from a number of sources. Originally, I had considered adapting particular British folk mythologies into a story but I wasn’t happy with any of the attempts I created along these lines. However, I did pick up some of the general ingredients of local mythologies. What you tend to find when you do a bit of digging is that a lot of rural folklore has very muddled origins, with meaning and ritual projected onto them by different generations over time. This in itself fascinated me, and it fitted neatly with more current horrors; Fear of the land and fear of belief systems.

We had discussed doing a folk horror tale for a long time as it was a genre we both loved and it seemed it hadn’t been done much in comics. There were lots of conversations about the sorts of things we both liked, and what we wanted to include. We both went on a trip to a local woodland for inspiration – ancient yew trees and fallen oaks. The story went through several versions that I showed Simon, before we settled on the final approach. I was interested in the idea of a cult with a charismatic leader, like a mix between Aleister Crowley and Charles Manson, and how far those beliefs could lead someone to doing terrible things. Visually, I tried to include lots of stuff that Simon would enjoy, the sort of wonderful British imagery used in local folk ceremonies, as well as the scenery of untamed countryside, and lots of nods to folk horror films.

There are a few direct references. The mask, for instance, is inspired by an ancient deer bone mask discovered on an archaeological dig in Yorkshire. There was something instantly striking and primaeval in its appearance that seemed to fit perfectly for this.

(The Poisoned Roots that bring us back to the world of Thistlebone – from Thistlebone: Poisoned Roots Part 1 – 2000 AD Prog 2221)

TCE: In the second series, I also found inspiration from an actual case of a tree collapsing and revealing human remains tangled in its roots – this has happened on a few occasions, apparently.

There are also a couple of real events that I drew inspiration from for a key part of the second series, but I can’t discuss them without ruining some of the story. Suffice to say, it is appropriately strange and nightmarish.

Simon, can you give us an idea of the process you’ve used on Thistlebone?

SD: My process is quite labour intensive but I find that it works ok. I don’t use computers at all… not because I fear them but just because I simply love physically painting. I start with getting together a lot of reference… I use models for the characters as this helps with consistency and then do the complete story in watercolour roughs.

I started this extra preparation when doing Slaine and tonally it really helped. It hopefully gives the story a better flow as I am aware of what is to follow and can change mood to best fit with the narrative.

The final pages are around A3 size and are gouache, ink and crayon on hot-pressed watercolour board.

SD: This story, Poisoned Roots, was started after a gap of about a year. I took a year off comics to concentrate on straight painting. I felt I needed to do this as both strands of my creative life are important to me and ,to a large extent, when I’m doing comics I get so immersed in that world that I can’t devote any serious time to painting.

After a year or so, I wanted to come back to Thistlebone. Tom had already written the story and he and Matt Smith had been very patient in waiting for me to start. As I mentioned before, I use a lot of models for the strip but this year, with the pandemic and the various lockdowns, has proved quite challenging as regards that. I know it’s nothing in comparison to what a lot have people have had to deal with but it still posed a few logistical problems. Socially distanced and remote photos via WhatsApp were the way around it.

Now, you mention the process of doing watercolour roughs with your work – we get to see some of these in the forthcoming Thistlebone Book 1 collection (above) and I can confidently speak for readers when I say that it’s amazing to see the quality and style of your watercolour roughs.

In fact, I know a lot of artists who would see these roughs and consider them print ready in many ways.

SD: Ha! Thanks…there is an energy to them which I like and often find hard to transfer to the final artwork. These roughs are a vital part of the overall storytelling. This time, due to the problems outlined above, I did the complete story in rough form before I started to save a bit of time, while we were all in isolation. This really helps me to be able to shift the storytelling visually and tonally at critical times so that it doesn’t look all the same. This is quite a problem with episodic storytelling in 2000 AD. Episodes can look great individually but when they are collected, there is no variation in tone so it all looks a bit ‘samey’.

When it comes to your art here, you’re doing so much on each and every page. But there’s a few specific things I wanted to ask about.

Firstly, something I noticed when it was first published, but seeing it in full in the collection really brings it home to me – it feels as though there’s so much of the art through the first series is predominantly based on a horizontal full page width panels…

SD: Ah yes, I do tend to approach my layouts quite cinematically so this horizontal panel width is a useful solution.

Similarly, there’s very few pages with anything like a nice, neat grid going on and a lack of solid, rigidly defined panel borders, adding to that organic feel of a page, allowing the flow of the background to continue.

SD: I also try (and Tom is great for giving me the space) to do an overall image and then place the panels on top of it. This kind of gets around having to do a background for each panel, to show where the characters are.

Simon, your career in comics has been dominated by your fully-painted style, on strips such as Sinister Dexter, Black Siddha, Stone Island, Missionary Man, Judge Dredd, Ampney Crucis, and Slaine for 2000 AD. But, unlike a lot of your contemporaries, you haven’t (as yet) been lured across the pond, with, as far as I know, just a single JLA graphic novel, Riddle of the Beasts, for DC Comics. Is this a deliberate decision on your part? Is it a case of fitting in very well at 2000 AD?

SD: I love 2000 AD and can’t see any reason to go elsewhere. To be able to do fully painted artwork on a weekly comic is almost unique I imagine. I cherish the simplicity of my working life for 2000 AD too…get script, do painting, deliver pages, have a beer with the editor… it’s something that I can’t imagine happening elsewhere. I have no interest in superheroes so that’s why I haven’t painted them. However, US comics in the late ‘80s and early 90’s were incredible. A lot of painted artwork and diverse and crazed ideas but that seems to not be the case now. To be honest, I don’t read comics regularly anymore…apart from Hellboy that is. Some of the current artwork on the US titles is incredibly beautiful though and I love love LOVE looking at it…Jock, Ben Oliver , Otto Schmidt etc but I have zero desire to do that stuff myself.

However, your work in comics is just part of what you do artistically. You’ve worked on storyboards for TV and videos for Muse and Tori Amos – what was that like, did you get to live a little of the rock and roll lifestyle?

SD: That was a while ago and they were just fun things to do really. I like music so it seemed a natural thing to do. I like not being defined as just doing one thing. I designed Oscar Isaac’s tattoo in Annihilation and painted the poster for Ben Wheatley’s last film and these jobs were a joy to do. Working with people I really admire is a real bonus.

You’re also a well-established and award-winning painter, with full memberships of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. Where did your love of portraiture come from?

SD: My father was a painter so I have always had art around me and portraiture always fascinated me. Comics are beautifully throwaway but usually the character is king over the artwork side of things. Painting, for want of a better word, proper paintings was something I natural moved into as there is a little more gravity and longevity to it all. I’m currently vice-President of the Royal Portrait Society (RP) and really like having these two strands to my creative output. Boo Cook and I have a folk-horror style music project called Forktail too (that Tom contributes to also) so that completes my unholy trinity of creativity.

Was it something that was always there and informed your comic style, or did comics come first?

SD: I have worked for 2000 AD for 27 years this coming September…I know…terrifying! So that came first. The two differing disciplines do often cross-pollinate…usually composition-wise more than anything.

Finally, what can we expect from you after this series of Thistlebone? Are you already planning series three? And what other delights on the comic page (or anywhere else!) can we look forward to?

TCE: As for future projects, I have several exciting things on the go at the moment but nothing I can talk about just yet. I would love to do more Thistlebone as it has been so rewarding to work on. I’m just waiting to see how everything settles into place after the upheaval of the last year.

SD: We haven’t really talked about it. I have a lot of painting commissions and projects that have been piling up that I must turn my attention to but never say never.

(We warned you – DO NOT go into the woods – from Thistlebone: Poisoned Roots Part 2 – 2000 AD Prog 2222)

And with that, we leave Tom and Simon busy plotting how best to fill our dreams with Folk Horror imagery and nightmarish creations.

Thistlebone Book One is out on 29 April. Thistlebone: Poisoned Roots starts in 2000 AD Prog 2221 – out 3 March from wherever great comics are sold, including the 2000 AD web shop.

And finally, it wouldn’t be fair to just show you Simon’s beautiful process pages in those small versions, so here they are in all their glorious and gorgeously disturbing glory, complete with a potentially small spoiler with the final page of Part One of Thistlebone: Poisoned Roots… (So only read on if you’ve already seen Poisoned Roots part 1 in Prog 2221…)

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Interview: Regened heads to Nu-Earth in Mayflies by Mike Carroll & Simon Coleby

2000 AD prog 2220 is out on 24 February and it’s REGENED time once more, with the Galaxy’s Greatest bringing you a Prog of all-ages action and adventure to thrill and amaze!

Each Regened Prog brings you a mix of new and old, mixing returning series and brand-new thrills destined to become firm favourites. Later this year, you’ll see more from the hit series Pandora Perfect by Roger Langridge and Brett Parson, and the Judge Dredd-world series Department K by Rory McConville and PJ Holden, as well as plenty of new thrills including Lowborn High by David Barnett and Philip Bond.

As for Prog 2220, there’s more Cadet Dredd, a new Future Shock, and three new tales – Viva Forever by David Baillie and Anna Morozova, Action Pact by Michael Carroll and Luke Horsman, and an all-new tale from the world of Rogue TrooperMayflies by Mike Carroll and Simon Coleby – who we talk to right here!

Okay then, Mike, Simon – the new Regened Prog 2220 ends with Mayflies, the new story set in the universe of Rogue Trooper and Jaegir – can you give us a teaser for what it’s all about?

Michael Carroll: Mayflies sort of grew out of a story I came up with a few years back that I unsuccessfully pitched to, oh, loads of publishers. I won’t say what that story actually is, but (a) it’s absolutely awesome and (b) given the number of rejections it’s received I’m willing to entertain the notion that I’m only one who thinks that it’s absolutely awesome.

This isn’t that story, though, I promise! Failure is often a good foundry: if an idea doesn’t work then instead of throwing it away, try twisting it around, turning it inside out, breaking it apart and putting it back together in a different way, combining it with something else. In this case, I took that never-got-off-the-ground story and tried to come up with a way to make it work in the Rogue Trooper universe. I ended up in a very different place from where I started, as often happens!

Mayflies features a group of clone troopers who are removed from their gestation pods earlier than scheduled… so, in keeping with the Regened-issue all-ages approach, they’re effectively teenagers – but of course they have decades of G.I. Trooper training and experience implanted in their brains.

MC: The lead character is Rose, designed to be a scout. She’s a loner by nature – well, actually, by science rather than nature – but she needs the back-up of her team. Zuli’s the squad leader, then there’s Wrecks, a ground-trooper – when his DNA was being compiled the strength and speed parameters were accidentally dialled a little too high. Artie was built to be an engineer, and Otto’s a strategist. They don’t get a lot to do in this story, but maybe in the next adventure they’ll get to shine. Rounding out the team is Slink, designed to be an infiltrator. And that’s all I’m going to say about Slink at this time!

So they are the Mayflies… They have every skill they need to get the job done – but they don’t know who they are.

Simon, this is a return to Nu-Earth and the Nort-Souther conflict for you, having done a number of Jaegir series, how did you come to get involved?

Simon Coleby: My involvement in the Mayflies project came about in the most informal way imaginable. I was following a discussion on social media about Rebellion’s Regened comics and I mentioned, quite sincerely, that drawing a strip in that style appealed to me very much. I was delighted when Michael messaged me to discuss the story he was developing, and to gauge my interest. The story sounded terrific and so, after receiving my orders from Tharg in the Nerve Centre, I was in place for the job.

One of those incredibly rare occasions where I didn’t almost immediately regret a comment I’d posted on Facebook!

I knew Michael’s story was to be set in the Rogue Trooper universe and so while I was briefly waiting for the script I produced a drawing of Rogue, just to try and find a slightly Regened spin on my drawing style.

Simon’s Regened style Rogue

SC: I had thought that working on an all-ages story might make for an enjoyable, even a relaxing, piece of work. I couldn’t have been more wrong – it was one of the toughest challenges I’ve faced for many years!

Mike, this is the second story in this Regened Prog for you alongside Action Pact with Luke Horsman – is that something of a surprise?

MC: It is indeed! I only delivered the script for Mayflies at the end of November last year, so I expected that it’d appear in the next Regened issue, not this one! That’s a pretty quick turn-around, especially given that we’ve all had lockdowns and Grudmas and insurrections and weather to deal with.

And Mike, Is this your first story set in the Rogue Trooper-verse (for want of a better description of it)? Are you excited to be getting into the history of the Nort-Souther war?

MC: Mayflies is my first official Rogue-verse story, but before I had any professional comics work published I wrote some Rogue-related strips for the 2000AD fanzine Zarjaz, excellently illustrated by Dave Evans. I’ve just checked my spreadsheet and that was back in 2007 –  fourteen years ago!

I imagine you’re a fan of Rogue Trooper of old? But he’s one character that seems, perhaps, to be in the past, his somewhat limited storylines possibly all played out.

MC: I really loved the original Rogue Trooper. It was fantastic, inventive stuff for the most part (but don’t get me started on the revelation that Gunnar, Bagman and Helm had those nicknames before they ended up as biochips in Rogue’s gun, backpack and helmet!), and the artwork was perfect. Dave Gibbons, Steve Dillon, Cam Kennedy… pure magic distilled into ink! The hunt for the Traitor General was tremendous fun, though I was a little disappointed when they finally caught him. That would have been a nice way to end the whole the series, but because it carried on there was a sort of “what do we do now?” feeling to the strip – it took a while to regain its footing.

SC: I wouldn’t wish to say that there is absolutely no scope for more of the traditional Rogue Trooper war stories, although it is perhaps a little difficult to imagine how that scenario could be taken in an interesting new direction. Many of the original stories were superb – the art by Colin Wilson and Cam Kennedy is some of my all-time favourite work from 2000AD.

It might be argued, however, that a war story that focuses on the actual conflict is something of a self-limiting format. Nothing very much can change – the war can’t be won by either side – or the story is over. The temptation is always going to be to introduce increasingly dramatic combat and more eccentric characters to retain reader interest. Rogue stalking through chem-clouds and destroying yet another squad of anonymous Nort soldiers are strong images, but there are possibly only so many times they can be presented before they start to become somewhat mundane.

Is this the reason you think that we’ve seen offshoot series such as Jaegir and this Mayflies strip come out – that the whole Nort-Souther war is a fascinating environment for stories but not necessarily for new Rogue Trooper stories?

SC: The Rogue Trooper universe does seem to offer huge scope for building on some of the peripheral elements of the world, though. I feel that’s what Gordon and I do in Jaegir. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I do not feel that we are really telling a ‘war story’, but a story about characters in a time of war.

Likewise, I feel Mayflies offers a fresh and contemporary step back into that world. Michael has introduced new characters which offer huge potential for something exciting and interesting. As soon as I read the script, I had the feeling that this would bring a new energy to a world we’re all very familiar with. This story is the first look at something, and it will be exciting to see where it goes. If circumstances allow, I would love to contribute more to this story, but whoever takes on the art role, this has the potential to be a hugely exciting and energetic story.

MC: That’s certainly the case for me. We’ve seen different aspects before, with War Machine and The 86ers and Tor Cyan, for example, but for me Jaegir really blasted open a new path, and on a much larger scale. It’s easily one of my favourite strips in recent years.

One thing that was really noticeable with Mayflies was that it’s a strip that doesn’t really feel like a Regened strip at all – it’s something that could just as easily have been seen in a standard 2000 AD Prog.

Firstly, for those of us used to seeing Jaegir, having Simon’s art on Mayflies makes it very familiarI don’t think Simon’s changed his art style one bit for the transition from standard 2000 AD Jaegir artwork to this Regened Mayflies artwork?

MC: When I was developing the script for Mayflies I saw a comment on Facebook from Simon about how he’d like to work on a Regened script, so I contacted him immediately. I’ve been a fan of his art for thirty years – he’s one of those artists who just keeps getting better and better – so this is a dream come true for me! Thanks to an anonymous benefactor I’ve been lucky enough to get an early look at his finished pages for Mayflies and they are absolutely incredible.

Simon has a unique way of bringing solidity and weight to his art. Everything feels real, and yet cinematic at the same time. In the past decade or so there’s not been a single page of his artwork that hasn’t made me go “Wow!” at least once.

Similarly, the tone of the story and some of the content here is decidedly older than a lot of what’s been seen in Regened before. Yes, there’s been storylines covering war before in Regened, but this seems to take a darker view – with the inclusion of the concepts of Rose being marked for disposal, the genetic engineering being shown in all its unpleasantness, the Nort Commanders order to terminate all the survivors on the Souther ship apart from the Mayfly specimens – all of that is very dark.

Is this new Regened darkness something you talked over with Tharg at all?

MC: If we skip back to this exact week in 1976, two action-packed comics launched at just about the same time were DC Thomson’s Bullet and IPC’s Action. Compared to its stable-mates Bullet was fairly hard-hitting, but Action just surged ahead of the pack like a wide-eyed, Mauser-wielding psycho on a stolen burning motorbike fuelled by adrenaline and fury. And almost half a century later its influence is still lingering. From our present-day perspective it’s clear that Action went too far, but going too far is the only way to test the boundaries of what’s acceptable… and to stretch them a little. By doing so, Action made room for 2000AD to come into existence.

So, yeah, Tharg and I had some back-and-forths as we worked out the right balance of action for MayfliesRegened is an all-ages comic so we don’t want to show people being massacred, but this is a war story: to pretend that everyone comes out of it with little more than a few scratches would be disingenuous. And kids know that, too: certainly, by the time they’re eight or nine, they know when a story is patronising, or has been otherwise sanitised for them… I think we managed to get the balance right!

Simon, I presume you’re working in the same way as you’ve told us about in your covers uncovered pieces for Mayflies? A fairly traditional process of fineliner rough sketches, through to pencils and inks before scanning it in and then over to Dylan Teague to add his colour magic to it all?

SC: Having done this for rather a long time, my drawing style is somewhat established. Without wishing to stray too far into cliché it is a part of who I am, I suppose much like my accent, vocal mannerisms or other aspects of my personality. I felt that trying to drastically change my style for this story would be a mistake and would inevitably look contrived.

There are already artists who take, perhaps, a somewhat manga-influenced approach to their art, and they do so quite brilliantly. That style of work seems to be well-suited to stories aimed at younger readers, but it isn’t what I do. If I tried to adopt that kind of visual approach, I felt that at best I could only produce a pale imitation of those artists who do that kind of work naturally.

My work is somewhat chiaroscuro, as I generally tend to gravitate towards darker-themed projects. I did take a slightly different approach for Mayflies, however. Customarily, I use rather a lot of texture in my drawing – splatter, grease pencil and other tools all have a place in my work. For this project, I opted to shelve all those tools which generally contribute ‘grittiness’ to my art. I decided to only work with very clean lines and solid shadows. Working with that limited palette was a huge challenge. I wanted the work and storytelling to be as clear as possible, and so I found myself debating over almost every line or area of detail – did it contribute anything, and did it help the story?

Simon’s pencils for page one, panel one.
… and the finished black and white art for Mayflies page one

SC: It was a very intense process, though I enjoyed it very much. I also opted to use a small amount of digital rendering in some of the feathering, again to try and add a slightly enhanced element of sharpness and cleanness to the line-work.

Whether anyone will notice any of this I really can’t say. I feel that this work is a little sharper and fresher than my customary art, but I’ll have to see if readers notice that at-all.

Likewise, in some of the areas of action, I took a slightly different approach from my usual work. In a story such as Jaegir, for example, the violence is quite extreme and graphic. With this being for an all-ages audience, I clearly needed to restrain that somewhat. There is a panel where Rose punches a Nort officer. If that were a scene in Jaegir, there would inevitably be blood, sinew and smashed teeth. In this tale, I went for the classic ‘wallop in the chops’. I must admit, that might be my favourite panel of the story!

Of course, having Dylan colouring the strip was an absolute joy. The guy is an artistic genius, and I was thrilled by how much his colours added to my drawings!

Simon’s classic ‘wallop in the chops’ moment!

And as far as the future for Mayflies, without giving away the ending of this first episode, do you have hopes that there’s going to be the opportunity to do more for either Regened or 2000 AD?

MC: I haven’t yet talked about it in any detail with Tharg, but I do have plans for more Mayflies stories should it prove popular enough. We’ve only begun to explore the characters and their situation, so, yeah, there’s a lot more to tell.

I think a series could work in the regular progs, although that wouldn’t be ideal: it’d feel unfair to create new strips for the younger Regened readers and then continue those strips in a comic they’re not allowed to read!

In an ideal world Regened would be a separate monthly publication, a younger companion to 2000AD. That’s been tried before – with Judge Dredd: Lawman of the Future, in the mid-1990s – and the comic market isn’t nearly as vibrant now as it was then, but with the right balance of stories it could definitely work!

2000 AD Regened Prog 2220, is on sale from newsagents, comic book stores, and from the 2000 AD web shop on 24 February 2021.

Thank you to both Mike and Simon for taking the time to chat to us here at 2000 AD. You can find Mayflies in the brand-new Regened Prog 2220, out on 24 February and available right here at the 2000 AD web shop.

2000 AD Regened Prog 2220 cover by Nick Roche

For more from Mike Carroll, head to his website, his writing blog, and his Rusty Staples comics blog. Here at the 2000 AD site, there’s the chance to read him talking about the recent Judge Dredd: Desperadlands saga with artist Will Simpson here, as well as the just-completed first series of DreadnoughtsBreaking Ground – over in the Judge Dredd: Megazine here.

For more on Simon Coleby’s artistic process, do be sure to check out these great Covers Uncovered pieces from Simon – The Vigilant on the cover of Judge Dredd Megazine 421 and his Hookjaw cover for 2000 AD Prog 2202, and you can (of course) follow him on Twitter.

And Simon was also kind enough to send along some more of his amazing artwork and the initial concept piece for the Mayfly characters.

‘My original concept piece for what the characters might look like. In this first story they are in kind of cryogenic suits, but I imagine they’ll adopt something more durable as the story ( hopefully ) develops.
That’s what I went for in the concept sketch.’
Page 3 pencils
Page four pencils
Page four inks
Page five pencils
Page five inks
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Interview: Talking Action Pact with Mike Carroll & Luke Horsman

It’s REGENED time again with 2000 AD Prog 2220 – out on 24 February – where the all-ages adventures are back to thrill and amaze regular readers and brand-new readers alike!

This Regened Prog is the first of four this year (the others will be 2000 AD Prog 2233 – 26 May, 2000 AD Prog 2246 – 25 August, and 2000 AD Prog 2256 – 3 November) with the now-familiar mix of returning series and brand-new thrills destined to become firm favourites. Over the course of the year’s all-ages action you’ll see the return of the hit series Pandora Perfect by Roger Langridge and Brett Parson, and the Judge Dredd-world series Department K by Rory McConville and PJ Holden, but there’s also plenty of new Regened surprises coming through the year, including Lowborn High by David Barnett and Philip Bond and Viva Forever by David Baillie and Anna Morozova.

But first of all, hitting hard and fast in Prog 2220, we have Action Pact by Michael Carroll and Luke Horsman, a frenetic, all-out action strip that Mike and Luke have taken time away from their packed schedules to talk to us about.

2000 AD Regened Prog 2220, is on sale from newsagents, comic book stores, and from the 2000 AD web shop on 24 February 2021.

Okay, Mike, Luke, Action Pact: The Radyar Recovery…

First up, what’s Action Pact all about – in the couple of preview pages I’ve seen it’s obviously <ahem> action packed, lots of explosions, trucks, making an escape, that sort of thing?

Michael Carroll: The series title does kind of hint at what it’s all about! It’s an action-packed science fiction yarn.

If you picture it as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid crossed with Steel Magnolias, with maybe just a hint of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure sprinkled around the edges… you’d be way off: it’s nothing like that at all. Not unless those things have all got an awful lot of spaceships, aliens, robots, blasters, rocket-boots and giant monsters that I never noticed before!

My original idea was to have a series that was absolutely nothing but action scenes from start to finish: everyone is constantly being attacked, chased or rescued, and in fact that’s what the first draft of the script was like – there wasn’t a single panel in which someone wasn’t getting shot-at or being punched or crashing backwards through a window or wrestling a giant killer cyborg or dangling one-handed from a crashing spaceship’s landing gear – but a non-stop barrage of action gets exhausting very quickly: we need the quiet moments to highlight the exciting parts. This gives the characters a bit of breathing space, too, so they can patch up their wounds!

And did the pun title come first or the strip?

MC: I thought of the title years ago, but I never did anything with it. At one stage I had plans to use it for a Young Adult adventure series. It was one of those things that came very close to happening, but in the end the publishers and I wanted different things from the series, so we abandoned it.

The title hung around for a few years in my “Cool Titles” list, along with dozens of others that’ll probably never see the light of day (but I won’t mention any here in case someone else nicks ‘em) until I started developing this new story and I realised it would be perfect.

It’s an all-new strip, presumably unconnected with anything previously in 2000 AD?

MC: Yep, completely new! For a brief while I toyed with the idea of setting it in the Proteus Vex universe, but I decided against that because I wanted Drake – the lead character of Action Pact – to be human, and there are no humans in Proteus Vex. Besides, this is a very different kind of story: Proteus Vex is told from the point of view of an unseen narrator far in the future, long after the events of the story have faded into legend, whereas by its very nature Action Pact needs to much more immediate.

As this is for Regened, what sort of changes have you made to your work to fit in with the all-ages brief of these Regened Progs?

MC: I’m quite used to writing for readers of all ages, so I don’t think I’ve had to make too many concessions. But one thing that’s important for us to bear in mind – and for anyone else who’s writing stories suitable for younger people – is that the folks buying the product are frequently going to be the adults, not the kids, so if the adults think that the comic or book or whatever is unsuitable for their kid, they’ll leave it on the shelves. So we keep the violence and gore to a minimum, even though the kids themselves don’t mind reading about exploding heads or eyeball-eating aliens or psychopathic blood-crazed zombie-vampires.

That’s one of the things I enjoy most about writing the Regened stories… the challenge of giving a story a ton of action and a sense of danger without resorting to the sort of violence that would make a concerned parent snatch the comic away from their kid’s hand.

Although you’re planning something that’s initially a one-off strip for Regened, I’m presuming that there’s an element of world-building going on here, thinking of back-story, working up histories for the characters and the worlds, as well as formulating plans for any potential future for the strip?

MC: Oh yeah! The basic idea behind Action Pact does lend itself rather well to more stories. I won’t go into any detail here because that would spoil this first tale, but, yeah, I’ve got a few more planned: if this one is well-received and The Mighty One gives it the go-ahead, I’d like to do a full series, especially now that I’ve seen Luke’s fantastic character designs and the way he brings the action to the page – it’s frenetic and in-your-face and exciting as anything! Brilliant stuff!

As for the future, I’d prefer to keep Action Pact as an all-ages tale, though: it would be easy to to “age-up” the series and introduce more adult themes, in line with most other 2000AD stories, but it doesn’t need that and I really want to keep this one accessible to everyone.

Similarly, Luke, I’d assume there’s an awful lot more work involved for you in terms of designing the world, designing the characters?

Luke Horsman: There is, but Mike fleshes his characters out very well, so there was a strong starting point to run with. I had a good idea of the visuals in mind before I started drafting so it came together relatively quickly.

Are you colouring your own work in Action Pact?

LH: Matt Soffe has done the colour work for this, he also did the Cadet Dredd strip I worked on – he has great colour pallets and textures.

Next, what changes to your style have you adopted for this strip?

LH: Not much change, I went slightly more cartoony in some parts to emphasise the action, but for the most part it was my standard style.

And finally, in terms of art Luke, one thing that’s really good to do is chat process involved – how are you working now – traditional, digital, a mix of both? And can you describe to us the process involved in making your art?

LH: I work solely digital these days, it’s a lot quicker and far less mess than traditional inking. Though I try to use as many organic brushes as possible as to not loose the traditional heavy tapered brush style I tend to go with. I use textured dry brushes akin to using a sponge with real ink, toothbrush ink spatter and even a brush made of my inky fingerprint for certain mucky smoke effects.

My rough stage is very loose, I’m very gestural and like to roughly play with the shapes and flow of the page. Spending most time inking.

And Luke was kind enough to send through a couple of examples of that loose roughs stage and the same panels complete with inks…

As far as Action Pact is concerned, and thinking about the whole all-ages thing, is there any big shift in your thinking when it comes to creating something all-ages and more than that, is there necessarily any real difference between strips in Regened and strips in 2000 AD in terms of content, bar the obvious things such as swearing and more graphic violence?

LH: No big shift for me really. The script of a strip dictates where I go with it generally, Mike did a great job on this one. Super fun and silly. My thinking and process is pretty much the same with any title – have fun with the story organically and try not to think too hard about it! It would be great to see more from these characters – the script leaves a lot of scope for a fun universe to play around in.

MC: I don’t think this is especially difficult to do. Sure, over the years a lot of “adult” aspects have emerged in 2000AD, but two of its best and longest-lasting strips – Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog – have for the most part managed to get along perfectly well without changing all that much from the early days.

It’s a mistake, I think, to associate kids’ fiction – or all-ages fiction – with simplicity or childishness, and a worse mistake to build on that and assume that the kids only want clear-cut, unambiguous stories. Kids are more than capable of understanding and appreciating complex story-structures and ambiguous themes… if you give them the chance. Just about any eight-year-old Star Wars fan will be able to argue both sides of whether Obi Wan Kenobi had the right to lie to Luke Skywalker about his father. Kids do understand this stuff – they just don’t encounter it very often because adults assume that it’ll be too complicated for them.

Nearly finally, in terms of creating comics for children – and yes, this is rather a huge topic, sort of a ‘solve the problem with comics’ question – how do you see comics for children succeeding in the future?

LH: That’s a tough one, for sure. I guess just give the kids as much original content, fun and variety as possible.

MC: The Regened issues of 2000AD are, for me, a very welcome trek back through territory that has of late been very sparsely populated. The quality of today’s kids’ comics is extremely high, but the quantity is woefully inadequate. How are kids supposed to discover comics if there isn’t enough variety for them to find something that snags their interest?

Unfortunately, therein lies a pretty big problem: launching a new title into an empty market is like whistling in a vacuum, but the market won’t grow if there’s no product to whet the appetites of the potential customers.

Sure, a publisher with a large back-catalogue could plunder its archives and produce a bunch of low-cost reprint titles, but modern young readers aren’t going to be able to identify with strips like Shiner or Whacky or Bully Beef and Chips – a lot of that old material just won’t work. I mean, I’ve never seen a real-life park-keeper or a teacher wearing a gown and a mortarboard and I grew up in the seventies – I can’t imagine what a modern-day kid would make of them!

This is where Regened and Rebellion’s Cor!! Buster specials – and even the new Roy of the Rovers, I expect (I’ve not read them because football) – stand out: quality new material, accessible to all… the only drawback being the low frequency: only one Cor!! Buster special a year means that it’s likely that the kids who enjoyed the first one would have mostly forgotten about it by the time the second one was published. A year to an eight-year-old is equivalent to almost seven years for someone of my vintage!

And finally, as we always like to ask, what can we expect from both of you this year, whether 2000 AD related or elsewhere?

MC: This year… I’ve got another new Regened strip lined up: Mayflies. Some more Judge Dredd strips, Dreadnoughts: The March of Progress and my third Judges novella, Necessary Evil, are waiting in the wings. Later this year, all going well, I’ll be writing my fourth Judges novella, the third Proteus Vex series, and a couple of projects not yet ready to be announced. So, yeah, a pretty busy year ahead!

LH: Outside of the day to day indy comic work I’m working on a pet comic project called Oathbound. It’s going to be a series based on Vikings and Norse mythology. Illustrating the birth of the Norse cosmos, the misadventures of the gods and heavily inspired by the Poetic/Prose Edda and Icelandic sagas. Got to love a Viking! A preview issue is currently available! Wink wink, nudge nudge.

Thank you to both Mike and Luke for taking the time to chat to us here at 2000 AD. You’ll be able to find Action Pact in the brand-new Regened Prog 2220, out on 24 February and available right here at the 2000 AD web shop.

2000 AD Regened Prog 2220 – Cover by Nick Roche

You can read more of Mike Carroll’s thoughts on so many things at his website, his writing blog, and his always worth a read Rusty Staples comics blog, and catch up with him talking about the recent Judge Dredd: Desperadlands saga with artist Will Simpson here, as well as the just-completed first series of Dreadnoughts over in the Judge Dredd: Megazine here.

As for Luke Horsman, you can find an interview about a previous Regened Future Shock here, you can find him here, and read the preview of Oathbound right here – it looks like this…

Luke Horsman’s self-published Oathbound – preview available here
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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…