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Interview: Kek-W & David Roach on Saphir Liaisons Dangereuses

With Saphir, Kek-W, David Roach, along with the talents of colourist Peter Doherty and letterer Simon Bowland, gave us a lush, rich, fantastical slice of period sci-fi fantasy, the sort of thing 2000 AD does so well!

The first three-parts, Saphir: Un Roman Fantastique, appeared as a Tharg’s 3Riller in 2000 AD Progs Progs 2197-2199 with the 3-part Tharg’s 3Riller. And now, beginning in 2000 AD Prog 2265, out 19 January, they’re returning with the new series, Saphir: Liaisons Dangereuses!

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Set initially in Paris, 1899, that first Saphir introduced us to Inspector Alphonse Mucha, investigating the reported murder of Lady Sofia Corundum – but Mucha soon discovered that all is not as it seems… and that, in turn, led us on a spectacular adventure and into Saphir, one of the 128 universal æssences, bridging the void between worlds.

Now, with the new series about to begin, it was my great pleasure to sit down with Saphir‘s Kek-W and David Roach to talk all things fantastical and fabulous, Saphir and sleazy politicians, and so much more… welcome to the world of Saphir and Liaisons Dangereuses!

The first tease of Saphir: Liaisons Dangereuses – from way back in 2021

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Kek, David, pleasure to speak to you, hope that you’re doing well, keeping safe, and haven’t gone especially mad during the last couple of years of chaotic times. 

DAVID ROACH: That’s certainly open to debate….!

Your Saphir strip ran last year as one of Tharg’s 3Rillers, a delicious mix of 19th Century Parisian decadence, particularly extreme murders, and strange worlds… sort of Art Nouveau meets Lovecraft with a Tory knob as the enemy.

DR: Allegedly.

That was Un Roman Fantastique, but we now have a new series, Liaisons Dangereuses, starting soon.

The best place to begin then… can you give us a rundown of what the strip’s about, what’s gone before, and what to expect from Liaisons Dangereuses?

KEK-W: Maybe a good place to start might be this extract from the email I sent Matt Smith in July, 2019. It’s a pretty good thumbnail synopsis of what David and I were thinking at the time. We were looking for somewhere to land Saphir and thought we’d see if there was any interest from Rebellion:

“David Roach and I are creating a new fantasy series together and have been playing around with some ideas. We now have a setting, a set-up and a rough framework for something. Two or three of the central characters are taking shape nicely. It feels like something that would sit well in 2000 AD, but it also feels unique – different to other fantasy strips you’ve run in recent years. Our working title is Saphir – French for “Sapphire.”

“It opens in Paris, 1900, and taps into that decadent fin de siècle / La Belle Époque vibe, but the action quickly / dramatically shifts to a strange, exotic world: a place like no other. Our intention is to create a lush/luxuriant fantasy ‘romance’ –  something opulent and hallucinatory, but also action-packed and fun. David and I are channeling an Art Nouveau meets P. Craig Russell / BWS feel for this series. Think: Moebius meets J K Huysmans, with David creating fabulous alien landscapes and gorgeous otherworldly magicians and warrior-women as only he can.”    

In the end, we settled on 1899 as it was just on the cusp of a new century: the world was changing, becoming more mechanised, moving towards Modernism and that fitted the sorts of themes I wanted to play with, but it was also rich with Parisian decadence, Art Nouveau, Symbolism, occultism, etc. To our jaded 21st century eyes, late 19th century Paris seems a strange place filled with bizarre, beautiful locations and eccentric characters – almost as alien and fabulous as the otherworldly lands we travel to in Saphir.

Inspector Alphonse Mucha investigating the ‘death’ of Lady Sofia Corundum –
from 2000 AD Prog 2197 – Saphir – Un Roman Fantastique Part 1

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KW: A quick recap for newcomers: in the first series, we meet Inspector Alphonse Mucha, who is called to a house in the  14th arrondissement to investigate the mysterious death of Lady Sofia Corundum, an “Englishwoman living in exile.” To the staid, uptight, conservative public servant, Mucha, the house – inhabited, much to his horror, entirely by women! – appears to be a den of iniquity and decadence. Mucha quickly falls foul of Sofia’s belligerent, strikingly amazonian chauffeur, “Jorges” who, unknown to him, is actually Jorg, a woman warrior from another world. In a deliberate inversion of Fantasy writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Lin Carter, Mucha is a beta-male and it is Jorg who is the alpha. The pair are transported to the fabulous world of Saphir, using an exotic perfume to jump between worlds. Here, they have to team up and form an unlikely double-act in order to rescue magician Sofia who is not dead, but is the prisoner of a rival evil sorcerer who just happens to look like Jacob Rees-Mogg (laughs).

The Inspector, Lady Sofia, Jorges – falling into Saphir –
from 2000 AD Prog 2197 – Saphir – Un Roman Fantastique Part 1

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DR: From my point of view, I think I’m honing what the characters look like, how they act, and the Fin de Siecle setting of their world.

KW: Yeah, definitely, David! Same here. In the second series of Saphir, Liaisons Dangereuses, we start delving further into our characters and exploring their relationships. We also meet other members of Sofia’s women-only household, open up the universe they inhabit and deal with an unexpected consequence of their first adventure together. It’s a deranged but heart-warming fantasy ‘romance’ that features an unexpected guest character. It’s about unlikely friendships and the notion of ‘family’. We’re living through terrible, divisive times right now and I wanted to write something that was inclusive and positive as well as a fun, fantastical romp.

Is this one another Tharg’s 3Riller or a longer strip?

DR: It’s a 5-parter this time around, the 3Rillers outing was something of a trial run to see if the readers would take to a fantasy strip in an SF comic… So far I think it’s looked positive so we’re back for another story.

The return to the world of Paris and Inspector Mucha in Saphir: Liaisons Dangereuses – strangeness is on the way!
From 2000 AD Prog 2265

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In Un Roman Fantastique, you were in the difficult situation of having to create not just one, but two fully-formed worlds – the Paris of Inspector Mucha and the fantastical world they venture to, complete with those enticing references to the Cobalt Horde, Carrion Men, The Bloated Lands, and a lot more.

Strikes me that there would be a hell of a lot of work involved in all of this world-building? Something of a gamble in many ways, putting in all the work for just 15 pages of story in the hope that it will return for more, paying off the time and energy invested in the work.

DR: The minute Kek and I started discussing the concept of the strip I knew it was something I desperately wanted to take off so I put everything I could into the artwork. The scenes in Paris were very carefully researched (from the comfort of my computer!) so that all the action took part in the right parts of the city, looking exactly as they would have at the turn of the previous century. 

I wonder if anyone noticed?

The fantasy scenes were harder in a way, creating everything from scratch and I think I’m maybe getting deeper into the world creating side of things in this second storyline. But essentially, I’m just trying to make an impact in the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, fully aware of the amazing artists that appear in it every week- it’s a tough gig!

KW: “I wonder if anyone noticed?” – I did, David! You put so much into this project. I’m in awe, sir.

From my side, I usually tend to approach a project with far more ideas than I probably need. It’s just how my brain works; it generates stuff whether I need it or not (laughs). Anything that doesn’t make it into a story ends up in the sock-drawer and gets recycled into another project – sometimes years later – or else feeds into a second series if the strip get renewed.

With the first series of Saphir, it wasn’t really a gamble in terms of world-building. I had a big bag of ideas (some my own, others drawn from conversations with David), a setting, an opening and set-up, a reasonable idea of where it was going. David and I knew the sort of thing we wanted to do – we’d spent some time talking about the things we liked, our artistic and creative reference points, the areas where our individual interests overlapped – so I had the flavour of it all – the vibe – in my head quite quickly. And sometimes that’s about 60% of the battle.

I was at a comic convention in Gdansk, Poland, in Spring, 2019, and remember writing in a notebook most what became the first couple pages of the first Saphir script, along with notes and names and thoughts about stuff.

Inspector Mucha gets another surprise – it won’t be the last –
From Saphir: Liaisons Dangereuses Part 1 – 2000 AD Prog 2265

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Again, it’s very much a Kek-W story, with a LOT going on, and much of it veering into the very strange!

DR: That’s what I wanted from Kek- and he hasn’t disappointed!

KW: Hahaha! You know, I always chuckle to myself when people say my work is weird or strange. We’re living in a bizarre postmodern world where Lynch, Cronenberg, Jodorowsky, etc, etc – people who were once considered oddballs or pioneers – have now been co-opted by the mainstream. I’m no longer sure what actually constitutes strange these days (laughs). At the end of the day, I just write stories about people – people who are looking for love, redemption, validation, hope… who are grieving, angry, broken, hurting, lost. The settings might be extraordinary – it’s genre fiction, after all – but, really, they’re just stories about people with recognisable, all-too-human failings and traits. And Saphir is no exception.

I absolutely love how David has brought Mucha, Sofia, Jorg and the gang to life! They felt very real to me when they were wandering around inside my head and now they feel so very, very real on the page too. David sent me a page of art recently from Liaisons Dangereuses – it was beautiful, of course, but there was a brief reflective sequence where it just focuses on Inspector Mucha… I was just amazed how David showed all the layers that sit within the character: the quiet sadness inside him, that he was unfulfilled and incomplete, but he hid all that under a mask of dignity and duty. For a moment the facade slips. David caught all that in a couple of panels. It was quite remarkable.

Moments like that remind me why I love writing comics and how blessed I am in terms of collaborators.

Obviously, the ending to Un Roman Fantastique was set up for further storylines, with Lady Sofia’s promise to be in touch with Mucha.

That promise to be in touch – a promise fulfilled in the new series –
from 2000 AD Prog 2199 – Saphir – Un Roman Fantastique Part 3

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So how far in advance have you plotted, just how many storylines are there in your head/notebooks right now?

DR: We have thrown ideas back and forth quite a bit and the 2 strips have gone in completely different directions to where I thought they were going… so there’s certainly a lot of concepts still floating around in the ether waiting to coalesce into further storylines.

KW: Yeah, totally. I’ve not hard-plotted anything. I always assume that every series or story I do could potentially be the last – though you always hope for longevity with a character or series, that you can take the readers and (especially) the commissioning editor along with you!

Usually, the bag of ideas is big enough that I can hopefully reach into my brain – metaphorically, not physically! (laughs) – and pull out the next set of episodes.

I usually plant ‘seeds’ in strips as I go along that could be grown into new stories – and that’s certainly true of Saphir too – seemingly throw-away lines that could lead into new adventures or expand the universe they’re set in. It might sound odd, but if you make your characters rich enough, they will usually tell you where they want to go next. Other writers will probably know what I mean when I say that. 

In the first Tharg’s 3Riller 3-parter, Un Roman Fantastique, we had appearances from the 19th Century artist Alphonse Mucha, repurposed as Inspector Mucha of the Sûreté Nationale, and, quite wonderfully, a certain character from the front benches, lounging in his nonchalant, egregious, and loathsome fashion as the main villain, named in Un Roman Fantastique as Sebastian Ensor, complete with his nanny as well.

The Honourable Sebastian Ensor and Nanny, any similarity to a certain lounging MP is purely intentional –
from 2000 AD Prog 2198 – Saphir – Un Roman Fantastique Part 2

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So – why the playing with real-life characters, names, likenesses?

KW: Why not? (laughs). Like I said: we’re living in a postmodern world – a Real-Time Mash-Up where the amount of information is now doubling every few minutes. A meme-based digital attention-economy where fiction and reality constantly rub up against and bleed into one another, where public domain characters get to hang out with the historical. It seems daft not to plug into all that (laughs). Even better: it provides endless scope for satire and humour.

Was it something in there at the script process, or something David added in during the art?  

DR: The Inspector’s name certainly came from Kek as I recall

KW: But very much inspired by you, David! – and the various topics covered in our email chats. You’ll mention something or someone or a place in an email that would send me off down a rabbit hole and get my synapses firing (a dangerous thing!) which then fed back into Saphir in all sorts of different and unexpected ways.

And they really are such wonderful likenesses, especially that certain loathsome lounging MP. [Although with Mucha, wasn’t he more of a light brown, red-head?]

DR: I wish I could remember whose idea it was to use “JRM” as the villain of the piece, but I do remember reading the script soon after he was so notoriously shown lounging in the house of commons, and saving a screen grab to be sure that I could use that pose in the strip. It was just too good a chance to pass up!

But actually, Inspector Mucha is based on my friend Anthony Reynolds -the singer, writer and 90s Indie legend whose band Jack toured with Suede and the Divine Comedy. Anthony is a massive 2000 AD fan and has completely thrown himself into the role as Inspector Mucha, so really any resemblance to the artist is entirely coincidental.

I’m also horrified to admit that since I’m equally tall and skeletal I used myself as the model for JRM in a couple of panels… oh the shame of it! The strip came out in the first wave of Covid and I was terrified that he might catch it and die… and then have Kek and I pilloried as heartless swines poking fun at the recently deceased, but luckily he appears to have avoided it.

More of the despicale Sebastian Ensor and Nanny –
from 2000 AD Prog 2198 – Saphir – Un Roman Fantastique Part 2

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KW: I think we settled on having a Mogg analogue as the villain reasonably early in the process. Fairly sure we batted the idea around in emails, David – possibly it was initiated by something that Real-World Mogg did or said – so we can both take the credit-blame for the genesis of that (laughs).  It was certainly there on the table by the time I started to script it.

Here’s an excerpt from my script:

‘It’s our Mogg-analogue villain, the posh, aristocratic, English magician: The Honourable Sebastian Ensor. Another character, like Sofia, with a foot in two worlds. He’s accompanied by ‘Nanny’: a hideous fly-headed thing with clicking insectoid mouth-parts dressed like an Edwardian governess in a blouse and long skirt.’

ENSOR:              A MIRACLE, GIVEN THE WOEFUL STATE OF THE FRENCH EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM, eh, NANNY?
NANNY:             Zzb-zb!

David, you did such a wonderful job nailing his look and his character! The lounging pose was all over my timeline as a meme at the time, people photo-shopping him into ridiculous scenes, so it was a laugh-out-loud brilliant moment when I saw how David had illustrated him. He also mentioned the artist, James Ensor, to me in an email, then Ensor coincidentally popped up a couple weeks later in a book I was reading on Symbolist artists, so that got folded into the character’s name. Making comics is always that strange, weird mixture of planning and improvising!

Are we going to be seeing any new parodies this time around? A Boris perhaps? Priti Patel is surely ripe for the authoritarian fascist dictatorial type?

DR: Both extremely good ideas!

KW: Don’t get me started on those two (laughs). No spoilers, but – yes! – we do have a new nemesis in the latest series who is based on a well-known real-world character. A prize to the first Squazz dek Thargo who spots the clues.

Another familiar face in Saphir: Liaisons Dangereuses – from 2000 AD Prog 2265

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Now, whilst touching on the whole relationship between writer and artist – how did you work together here?

Is it the case of Kek doing the writer thing of ‘Page 1, huge alien scene, all distinctly different, in a massive vista of figures, backed with distinctive and original fantastical features’ – you know, the sort of thing every artist likes to see!

Or the alternative – writer leaves it vague, artist goes crazy with the details? Or is it more of a collaboration, ideas bouncing back and forth?

DR: We had exchanged ideas quite a bit before the writing of both storylines- often with me saying how much there were certain things I’d like to draw, and perhaps more importantly, a long list of things I’m keen to avoid! But in both cases, Kek has veered off into his own completely bizarre directions… which is exactly what I’d hoped for in working the West Country Wizard himself.

The scripts are very tightly plotted and precisely dialogued (of course), but within that, I get a fair bit of leeway in how things look and how the fight scenes are choreographed. Kek likes to throw quite a lot of visual ideas into the script as a way of sparking off ideas in me, rather than tying me down too much.

I think it’s a great balance and if I want to add the odd extra panel here or there, or bring in a left-field influence for the visuals he’s always open to my suggestions. I think it all works really well.

KW: “West Country Wizard” – hahaha! Brilliant! Thanks, David. I know my scripts give you a few headaches now and then, but you are an utter delight to work with and I’m super appreciative of the extra ten miles you go to when illustrating these tales. You constantly spark new story and character ideas in my head, nudge me into taking things somewhere bigger, bolder, and better.

David, your art has always been highly rendered, veering into portraiture at times on the faces, but there’s also that sense of it all being very realistic, even whilst portraying all of these wonderfully out-there ideas that Kek is throwing into the storyline.

DR: Thank you- I do try to draw everything with the same degree of realism if I can, so that everything is completely believable.

Perhaps the best example of it in that first Saphir would be when Jorges removes her hat, revealing her shock of blue hair, all beautifully rendered in your extreme realist style. This one, in fact…

(The beauty of Roach’s pencil lines –
from 2000 AD Prog 2197 – Saphir – Un Roman Fantastique Part 1)

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DR: I do have a couple more panels drawn I pencil this time round too.  It might be a sort of character flaw but for some reason I just like mixing up techniques if I can. The pencil panels are a way of standing out from the other artists I guess since nobody else at 2000 AD does it.. possibly with good reason!

You’re also an artist whose art has a sensuality, for want of a better word, to it – your figures, no matter how fantastical, always have a litheness, a reality about them.

And then there’s the detailing you put into nearly every panel – you’re certainly not an artist who ignores the backgrounds or simply gives us a generic backdrop to the important figure work.

(More of that Roach artwork – the drapery on show –
from 2000 AD Prog 2198 – Saphir – Un Roman Fantastique Part 2)

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But the thing I noticed so much here in Saphir? That would be the drapery – clothes hang just right, fabrics, curtains, everything just has a wonderfully stylised feel to it – very much in keeping to the Parisian times and the Art Nouveau stylings of Mucha (the other one, not your Inspector).

DR: Well I do adore the work of Mucha (the artist) who certainly was a master of drapery, along with everything else. Again I think it comes down to wanting to create something that looks believable and in some cases I’ve taken photos to create that realistic feel that I’m looking for. The sort of artists I’ve been looking at for inspiration – Paul Gillon, Leonard Starr, Al Williamson, Lou Fine, Stan Drake, Jesus Blasco, Garcia Lopez, and Nestor Redondo all had that ability to create art that’s completely credible no matter what the subject matter and that’s very much what I was going for.

I also do a lot of life drawing along with larger, more finished “fine art” drawings (often taking a week or more to do) working with models and drapery and I think that underpins my comic work.

Of course, when there’s a panel like Jorge piling into a mass of alien creatures with a large spear that has to come entirely from my imagination.

Oh yes… and that would be this one!

(Jorge leaping into action –
from 2000 AD Prog 2198 – Saphir – Un Roman Fantastique Part 2)

Your art’s certainly developed and evolved over the years since I first saw it – I believe that was with the classic Nemesis storyline, Purity’s Story. Do you see that development through your work as well? How would you describe that?

DR: Oh very much so, and since that was 35 years ago (gulp!) I hope I have grown a lot as an artist over all that time! Nemesis was my first professional strip anywhere and I was only 21 when I started it so I was very much learning as I went along.

Some artists- Steve Dillon being the classic example- burst onto the scene fully formed but I’ve grown very gradually over the years, I think.  I guess I’m continually pushing myself and I still have the drive that every strip should be my best, if possible.

Along with my Anderson strip in Prog 2000, I think Saphir is my best strip artwork… that’s what I’m hoping for anyway.

How are you working now, what’s your process entail?

DR: There’s no real mystery to it- I read through the strip, roughly sketch it out on a small scale, draw it up more tightly on the original pages (I work at A2 size- the typical original art size for British comic artwork up until the ‘90s), then go hunting for reference if I need any. For this strip, there’s been a mountain of reference for settings and things like cars, prams, clothes, plants, guns and so on… in fact anything Victorian and French.

For figures, I don’t usually use reference but from time to time it’s useful to work from photos to capture the specificity of a pose. For episode 3 for instance, I had Lady Sofia pick up a cup and saucer, then kneel down and place it on the ground, and it’s such a precise, specific action that I thought it would be easier to get someone (my daughter Belle in this case) to act it out for me. A vast Alien Battle isn’t something we’re ever likely to see so it’s easy to just make it up – but exactly how someone would place a cup and Saucer on the ground has to look believable. It’s possible that I overthink these things!

A quick word on Peter Doherty and his colour work on the original 3-parter. Will he be returning this time to add colour to your art David?

DR: Absolutely! Peter did such a fabulous job the first time round that I was really keen to have him back again. The fans appreciated his work and he made me look good, so I’m relieved he’s coming back for Liaisons Dangereuses.

KW: Yeah, me too. I’m just going to jump in here and echo what David said: Peter did an amazing job on the first series! The colouring was so subtle and sympathetic. I’d also like to mention the great lettering job Simon Bowland did. Peter and Simon, like David, are masters of their respective trades. I was blown away by their work.

He’s definitely a great choice for a colourist for your work here, giving the whole thing that lush feel – going from the dark, earthy tones of Mucha’s Paris, all those blacks, greys, browns (all the better to emphasise the fantastical elements of the story, such as that aforementioned moment of Jorge’s blue hair) and on to the vivid oranges, greens, blues of the fantasy world. An absolute masterclass of colour use and one that, I think at least, really suits your artwork.

Is there not the temptation to colour your own work at all?

DR: Since I’m colour-blind I can safely say the answer is no!

Ah, yes, that would definitely be a problem!

More mysterious goings-on? That would be Saphir: Liaisons Dangereuses –
From 2000 AD Prog 2265

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Finally, as always, what sort of things have we got to look forward from you in the future, both 2000 AD-related and elsewhere?

DR: As many of you will know I’ve been compiling the Brian Bolland Apex edition for Rebellion, and simultaneously putting together one devoted to Mick McMahon as well and both are out this year.

I’m also compiling a book collecting the best Fleetway Romance strips, also for Rebellion which will be a Valentine’s Day 2023 release (Hey, we plan ahead!) It’s a book that I think everyone will love, even if they think they won’t.  Hey, trust me, it will be great!

Strip wise I think I’m doing something top secret for Germany as soon as I finish Saphir and I’ll try and get through my commission list if I can. I have an art book ready to go if we can find the time to publish it and you can take it as read that I’m always overjoyed to appear in 2000 AD, it still feels like a honour to be an Art Droid. If the readers enjoy this second Saphir strip I’d absolutely love to draw more, believe me, we have so many ideas for future storylines. I’ve never enjoyed myself more.

KW: Me too, David! Here’s to many more adventures in the worlds of Saphir and Fin de Siecle Paris!

Everyone, say thanks to both Kek-W and to David for that beast of an interview! You can get hold of Saphir: Liasons Dangereuses in the new 2000 AD Prog 2265, available from all comic shops, newsagents, and the 2000 AD web shop from 19 January.

As for the very special Brian Bolland Apex Edition that David has been working on – that’s released on 16 February 2022 – and you can get that here!

And since we were mentioning it – some of David’s earlier work on Nemesis Book 8 – Purity’s Story, from 1988’s Prog 558…

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‘Bloody revenge and fungal horror collide’ – talking Death Cap with TC Eglington & Boo Coo!

If you’ve seen inside the latest Judge Dredd Megazine, issue 439, with its seasonal cover from Lee Carter, you can’t have missed the brilliant new strip in there from the creators of BluntDeath Cap.  

It’s all fungal threats, Cursed Earth nightmares, and a disgraced Judge with revenge in mind… so, isn’t it about time that we learned more with a chat to TC Eglington and Boo Cook?

The original Thrills of the Future tease for Death Cap – now a Thrill of the Now!

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Tom, Boo, the first we saw of Death Cap was is the single panel trail in that Thrills of the Future teaser… the vibe I got from that, which I mentioned to you at the time, was something very Wild West – a run-down town, someone who may or may not be a Judge – she’s got part of the Judge’s uniform on at least – riding in on a mutie horse… so I had a guess that it was something set in the Cursed Earth with a Judge, possibly on the run, certainly not the most conventional of Judges. 

So, now that the series is out, can you let us all know a little bit more – what’s Death Cap all about? 

BOO COOK: Death Cap is primarily about disgraced ex-(Texas City) Judge Anita Goya, who, after a bad judgement call takes the long walk into the Cursed Earth sometime before our tale begins and is now raising a small family in a windblown typical wild-west rad-back town. Cue mutant marauders!

These aren’t just any muties though – they have been infected by a further mutated variant of the old Grubbs Disease from back in the post Apocalypse War story Fungus by Wagner/Grant and Ezquerra. The marauders, led by the hideously infected Wayde are on the search for something specific and burn Goya’s town to the ground while she is away.

She returns to find her family murdered and goes on an angst fuelled warpath to track the muties down but in the process…

[At this point Tharg stepped in, wagging fingers and muttering darkly about SPOILERS.]  

Fungus – the Wagner/Grant/Ezquerra classic from 2000 AD Prog 275-277

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TC EGLINGTON: Yep, that’s pretty much it! Like Boo says, Death Cap follows the fate of disgraced ex-judge, Anita Goya. Having taken the Long Walk many years ago, Goya has made a life for herself in the rad-back, raising a family and making a home. But her life is upended when Wayde, a deranged mutie transformed by a fungal infection, ransacks the town with his gang of muties in a search for a prized relic. Goya’s family is murdered. She is left for dead. Old instincts stir, however, and she retrieves her lawgiver to carry out one last act of justice.

Bloody revenge and fungal horror collide, as Judge Goya tries to hold onto her last scraps of humanity amid the brutal acts gradually turning her into a monster. 

And of course, all of that explains why it’s called Death Cap as well! 

BC: Yes, the connection between the fungal peril involved and the mighty Death Cap toadstool – when we were trying to think of a title for the strip Tom threw that one up and it was obviously a no-brainer to use it… perfect! 

TCE: We wanted to revisit a classic Judge Dredd story and Fungus was a big favourite for both of us. We wanted to expand on the original short strip, but have the feel of a gritty, western-era revenge story, where the protagonist loses their humanity in their thirst for blood. Death Cap had the perfect ring to it: fungal and deathy. 

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So, I wasn’t too far off with the little breakdown of the Thrills of the Future panel then? 

TCE: The teaser panel didn’t show a lot, for obvious reasons. There is a lot we want to unfold naturally for the reader. if anything, the Thrills of the Future panel is one of the nicer, calm-before-the-storm moments. But you definitely hit the nail on the head with the Western theme. And Goya is unconventional. She’s someone that made a mistake for being too human in a situation where she needed to be cold and practical. She is haunted by that blurred line of when to have the killer instincts and when to be human. That said, we take her on a bizarre and bloody journey that pushes her character to the limits.

BC: Well, Goya definitely has a mutant horse. After I’d drawn the horse with a human hand at the end of its snout and firmly cemented it into the strip, it suddenly dawned on me that this could only have been the result of some unspeakable DNA mixing. That, thankfully, does not make it into the story although I’ve only read the script for parts 1-3 so far, so zoophiles could still be in for a treat! 

As for the rest of your conjecture about the story, yes, Goya was indeed a Judge. a very good one by all accounts but at the time of her big error of judgement she was quite young and hesitated in a moment of moral decision making with deadly consequences. She takes her guilt in this matter very seriously and it goes a long way to shaping who she becomes in maturity… you wouldn’t want to mess with her that’s for sure.

Although the strip begins in her small town it quickly becomes a classic Cursed Earth quest featuring many crazed scenarios and characters along the way with some lovely set pieces and inventive psychedelic mayhem courtesy of Tom’s warped mind. 

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How many parts are we looking at for Death Cap

BC: it’s 8 episodes, 10 pages in length each, which makes some room for some nice big panels for me to get stuck into, and some more experimental story telling techniques.

TCE: Yes, since we’re in the Megazine we have more pages than in the prog. This has allowed us to have a bit more space to play with and we’ve used that to convey some of the atmosphere and vastness of the Cursed Earth. 

What is it about Dredd’s world that means it’s just so open to exploration? After all, it’s been four decades plus… and we still haven’t explored much of the world and its stories yet! 

BC: I’ve been a massive fan of Dredd and his world for over forty years so it’s always an immense pleasure to dive into it and create some new stuff – there are so many areas to explore and twist and add new directions to.

Drawing the elements of familiarity with that world always gives me a thrill and I especially like subverting them a bit – in Goya’s case for example she still retains some useful elements of her old uniform but her judge gloves have become fingerless over time, she’s lost a kneepad somewhere in the rad-back, and wears a respirator prised from an MC-1 Judge’s helmet round her neck in case of emergency. That kind of stuff is always fun and hopefully serves to flesh out her background non-verbally.

With some of the Judge tech in the strip there’s a vibe of repurposing and even revitalising the old ways in which things are used and done which also filters nicely into some of the fungal consciousness aspects of the story and how such changes could assist humanity. There are theories that as we roamed the ancient plains in early primal hominid form we ate fungi found growing on the dung of prairie‑dwelling animals and that injection of boosted awareness from the mushrooms helped evolve our brains. You could say that Arthur C. Clarke’s famous monolith in 2001 is a great metaphor for psychedelic fungus in our evolution. 

TCE: We both love the Dreddverse, particularly the aspects of it that allow you to elaborate or expand on what has already gone before. I always loved the Cursed Earth as a location, as it has that nightmare quality of apocalyptic landscapes but peppered with the remains of America.

We wanted to explore that with Death Cap, that feeling of a journey through the heartlands of the Cursed Earth, where locations become a character all of their own. instead of the Bible Belt, there is the Trash Belt, where entire sub-cultures of muties have developed.

Boo’s artwork for this strip is stunning. He’s managed to create new, original visions that feel in step with the traditions of the Cursed Earth we know and love.  

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You were last together with Blunt, three series way, way out in the boondocks of the universe, telling a fascinating tale of genetics, Gaia theory, planet-wide ecosystems, and all pulled together with a backdrop of Mega-City colonisation. 

Here, in terms of proximity to MC-1, it sure looks like you’re a lot closer to home. Does that limit the sorts of flights of fancy you can deliver at all? 

BC: Well the Dreddverse is so full of crazy shit already that it sets the bar pretty high in terms of flights of fancy, but Tom and myself are always up for the challenge of trying to crank things just a bit further and Death Cap hopefully won’t disappoint! 

TCE: This is definitely more rooted in the Dreddverse, both with the location and the Grubb variant. That said, we have found a way to work in some of our obsessions in a way that gives the strip its own distinct flavour.

Part of the attraction to the idea of referencing the original Fungus storyline was some of the knowledge that has been gathered about fungi since John Wagner first wrote it – and a huge shout-out to his genius for getting to that idea long before anyone else.

The advances in science surrounding fungi are incredible and have been a great source for inspiration. To some degree, it allows us to briefly touch on ecosystems and genetics once again, although of the mycelium-inspired variety.  

If you ever want to give yourself nightmares just look up cordyceps zombie infections, where fungi have evolved to manipulate insects, hijacking their brains and making them superspreaders.

Oh yes, the zombie ant fungus – truly the stuff of nightmares.

But don’t take our word for it – go read and watch here and here – but don’t blame us for the images that are going to take root in your head!

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It’s perhaps slightly different to the work involved with Blunt, in that there’s a lot more of the structure, the worldbuilding, done for this sort of setting already – does this mean the prep work for Death Cap was in any way easier? 

TCE: Yes, definitely. I think this felt a lot more familiar territory for us. We had a lot of ideas about aspects of the Cursed Earth that we wanted to explore. And it has been a genuine joy to be inspired by one of our favourite Dredd strips. So much of the world and its mechanics are there, and for my part that helped things a lot. 

BC: Yeah, I think it actually took several years and many incarnations to come up with Blunt and his world but in the case of Death Cap, once we knew the setting and the character it was just a case of feeling out who the lead needed to be physically. I do like my heavy hitters but Goya is more understated than Blunt – she would kick your head clean off if she needed to but she isn’t rippling with muscles – just a solid block of a woman with a soul that matches her physicality perfectly. then I just had to add the Texas City judge elements and figure out her look as she…

[Nope Boo, Tharg’s wagging his SPOILERS finger again, sorry!]

And in terms of Death Cap, I’m assuming you’re working here with the intent/hope that you’ll be able to develop this past the first series? Any hints of where we may be going that far into the future? 

TCE: There is definitely a direction for future storylines. Goya is a great character to develop, as well as the landscape she inhabits. We’ve approached it by having a definitive arc for the first series but there are lots of characters and details that fit to a larger story. it is also a great topic to explore. 

BC: Obviously it’s always great to keep a strip rolling, especially if you’re enjoying it as much as I am, and I think the usual intent with stories these days is to craft the arcs with a solid end but with scope for more.

As of now I don’t actually know the exact ending of this 8 episode arc – Goya certainly won’t be the person she was at the start of the strip! But there’s certainly a lot of scope for continuing the story.

Boo Cook’s concept art for ex-Judge Goya in Death Cap

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Boo, your artwork on Blunt was a wonderfully organic style. What sort of shifts in the art will we see this time round for Death Cap? Has a change of locale meant a change in style at all? 

BC: If my style on Blunt was ‘organic’ then Death Cap is ultra-organic in as much as I’ve opted for a much grittier vibe by eschewing the inked style of Blunt for some very heavy/dirty pencils which I’m painting over in Photoshop.

As such, it’s a bit more realistic than Blunt and I feel I’m able to bring a lot more nuances to the world and characters, plus I enjoy it a lot more – it feels more like it’s my natural style of art. Sure, it takes about twice as long to do, but ultimately if I’m more satisfied with the end results then I’m happy to take the hit time-wise. 

More of Boo Cook’s concept art for ex-Judge Goya in Death Cap – with Tharg’s heavy Spoiler finger busy wagging our way!

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Tom, Boo, you’ve got a few series of work behind you now. Let’s talk a little about the collaboration between the pair of you – how it works, the details, the arguments and fights! 

BC: Tom is a big raging Scotsman so I don’t do too well in the fights, thankfully we don’t have too many! We have quite a nice loose working vibe these days where Tom will come up with the big idea then we’ll get together and have a good old brainstorming session to see how we could flesh it out. 

As the process rolls along scenes or vehicles that might be cool to include will occur to me and I’ll run them by Tom and he’s usually gracious enough to whack them in if they fit his framework. I think we started out with Death Cap being a straight-up Fungal zombie skit but we wanted to distance it from ‘The Last Of Us’ game so the Grubb’s Disease idea was a perfect way of framing it.

With first Blunt and now the fungal delights found in Death Cap, there’s an enormous amount of exploring the idea of genetics, ecosystems, ethnobotany and the nature of symbiosis up to and including planetary level, something of the Gaia theory. Where did the interest come from? Is there a science background in there at all? Or is it just a healthy obsession with the unknown for you?

TCE: I feel that the science fiction genre is about imagining the future, and it is impossible to do that nowadays without considering ecological issues, be they climate catastrophe, ethnobotany, or evolutionary theory. With both Blunt and Death Cap, we didn’t want to do just do a doom and gloom aspect of that, but something a bit more dynamic and leftfield.

There’s definitely a big influence from developments in the ecological sciences from the last few decades. I’ve been an environmentalist since my teens and it spills into my work. James Lovelock’s Revenge of Gaia sits on my shelf, as does Merlin Sheldrake’s excellent Entangled Lives – an in-depth look into the world of fungi – and Suzanne Simard’s brilliant Finding the Mother Tree – charting the discovery of the complex mycelium networks that help trees communicate in what is dubbed ‘the wood wide web’. We play around with some of these ideas, always in a way that is more about fictional concepts and less about hard science, but it seems good to at least approach some of these subjects. Partly, it’s also to add something new into the mix. 

BC: Yes, Tom and I are quite obsessed with the world of Fungi and the mycelium network that connects entire forests of trees together in that ‘wood wide web’ Tom’s already mentioned.

In fact, without fungus on this planet, life would never exist as we know it – for a start there would be nothing to break down dead matter and return it’s nutrients to the Earth.

Mushrooms and toadstools are basically the magick ingredient or key to life on this planet and have been long overlooked by science as they neither fitted into the animal or vegetable Kingdoms. They can absorb toxic waste, heal us physically and mentally and I think the time is ripe for a mycological renaissance, which could just be the key we need to survive many of the threats currently facing us as humans, so to do a strip that helped to put mushrooms on the map was something we really felt passionate about. I’ve done lots of research about them to the point where I’ve now ended up dreaming about wolfing down massive handfuls of toadstools. They are in us, on us and have been with us from the start…  

Yep, even more of that gorgeous Boo Cook concept art for Death Cap!

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TCE: I’ve worked with Boo longer than I’ve worked with anyone, so we’re definitely doing something right. We go back and forth with ideas. Sometimes Boo has an idea that I run with, sometimes I work from a sketch – Gunheadz was a drawing in his sketch pad that he challenged me to work into a story – and sometimes I come up with an idea and we brainstorm the details. With Death Cap, it has been a nice mix, partly because the inspiration was something we’re both obsessed about. if there is a key to good collaboration I think it is definitely mutual interest.

We work best together when it is a subject we’re both really into. it helps that Boo’s instincts are great. He’s put me on the right track with a few things, which has helped. I also try to work in the stuff I know he’ll love to draw. His range and skills as an artist are incredible and I feel that Death Cap is some of his best artwork to date. it seems to encapsulate all the best things we’ve been exploring in our strips over the years.  

Also, in a fight, he has a low centre of gravity and he has been known to use a giant caterpillar as a weapon, so I know when to back off.     

A glimpse of the fungal infection for your nightmares – here’s Boo Cook’s art from Death Cap of the main bad guy Wayde – that’s just not nice.

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Let’s finish up with a standard – what sort of things do we have to look forward to you post Death Cap? Feel free to push anything you’re involved in! 

TCE: I’ve been busy with a range of projects. Me and Simon Davis are currently putting together ideas for Thistlebone 3, and I have a few other writing projects in development. I’ve also been keeping my hand in with some art, mixing between illustration/comic art type stuff – www.instagram.com/tomtheeggeglington – and folk horror woodcuts/lasercuts – www.instagram.com/wyrdewoods

BC: I still have quite a massive chunk of work to do on Death Cap so beyond that I’ve only just started putting the mycelium feelers out, but if they bear fruit it’ll be a real psychedelic blast working with someone whose writing I’ve loved for years.

I always have painting projects going on the side which tend to get aired on www.instagram.com/boocook plus there’s the music angle with bands Motherbox and Forktail with Si Davis, plus my solo stuff under the name of Owlmask – funnily enough Tom drew the cover to the last Owlmask album! All of this can be found on the Menk Records label on Bandcamp if anyone’s interested… Menk Records 

More of Boo Cook’s concept art for ex-Judge Goya in Death Cap

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Thank you so much for Tom and Boo for chatting to us here. Death Cap already has that feel of a modern-day Dreddworld classic – you can (and dammit, you should) catch it in Megazine issue 439 and for most of 2022! And having seen the sneak peeks of what’s coming in Boo’s concept art that we just couldn’t show you (spoilers!), you’re all in for a nightmarish treat!

If you’re after that little bit more from TC and Boo, there’s more on ecosystems and infections in this interview on Blunt from 2018.

Now, we’ve already shown you some small versions of all those incredible Death Cap concept images, but they’re just too good not to show you the full set in full size… so here’s your chance to luxuriate in them and wonder exactly where these characters are coming into it all…

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Interview – Judge Dredd: The Musical – Rob Williams & Chris Weston Bring The Noise!

A little bit Hamilton, a little bit Chuck-D, a lot weird… it’s time for the start of Judge Dredd: The Musical in 2000 AD Prog 2259 – out now! Sensitive Klegg returns to put on a musical based on the life of his hero – Joseph Dredd.

It’s full-on ridiculousness set to music, brought to you by the great Dredd team of Rob Williams and Chris Weston

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So, a while ago, we saw the Thrills of the Future ad for Judge Dredd: The Musical…

Sensitive Klegg on the mic, one rapper seemingly scared out of his wits. Although, given the ginger goatee maybe he deserved it? This one looks like it’s going to be a LOT of fun! So, guys, what can you tell us?

ROB WILLIAMS: Judge Dredd: the Musical is a three-part – well, four-part, really, we have a longer final part thanks to the grace of Tharg The Mighty – storyline that is the career comeback of Sensitive Klegg.

He’s back in Mega_City One, he’s lost his royalties from his hugely successful tenure as a rapper in Sino-City. They loved him because he looked like a dragon and he rapped. So now he’s going to create his magnum opus. A hip-hop musical, not a million miles away from a Hamilton. And it’s about the life of his hero: Judge Dredd.

CHRIS WESTON: After Rob and I finished Dredd: Control we both agreed that our next Dredd strip should be a bit more humorous. Control was pretty grim in tone and imagery so it felt like a good idea to lean into more comedic material. Some of the best and most memorable episodes of Judge Dredd have been laugh-out-loud funny, especially during Grant & Wagner’s run, and Dredd: The Musical was a deliberate throwback to those.

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Yes, we’ve had plenty of musical-themed strips in both the Prog and the Judge Dredd Megazine over the years, but it seems to me that things have escalated a little with Dan Abnett and Phil Winslade’s 50th installment of their Dredd-world frontier series, Lawless, in the Megazine issue 424. They not only did the whole thing in song but also employed an entire team to bring Lawless the Musical into existence as a musical work as well. (Read more on that here.)

So… are we going to be seeing you pulling in your own team of musical greats to assist?

RW: I think there’s a great history of musicals in Dredd and 2000 AD, which is probably vaguely Alan Grant-related. It feels that way. I’m thinking of The Last American too. I wrote a song and dance number into my creator-owned comic with D’israeli from a few years back, Ordinary, and the musical number from The Last American was a bit of an influence. It feels like it works in the madness of MC1, certainly. We were thinking of what would annoy Judge Dredd more than anything else on Earth – and a hip-hop musical performed by Sensitive Klegg would be high up there.

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And will you be (as I believe the hip kids say) laying down a few tracks off the back of this?

CW: I genuinely had plans to record one of the songs from “Dredd:The Musical” with my son, to promote the story. I even hoped to make a short and primitively-animated video to go with it. Fortunately, for everyone concerned, Hollywood and fate intervened and I was dragged off to work on The Continental, the John Wick spin-off TV show, which didn’t leave me enough to create my potentially Grammy-nominated Klegg rap anthem. I wasn’t entirely sure what a Klegg’s voice would sound like, anyway.

Well, I suppose we can forgive you this one time Chris – especially as you’re busy on what looks like it might be a damn fine TV show.

RW: I’ve just remembered seeing a video of Chris Weston rapping onstage to a rabid crowd at a French comic convention. I don’t know if footage of that still exists. But I didn’t dream it.

CW: That clip is now available to buy as an exclusive NFT, for those interested.

One of the better uses for an NFT right there!

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Although it has to be said, Chris, you missed a trick not pulling in Anthrax and using their connections with Public Enemy to get some top talent on the musical version!

After all, you did recently do a rather fabulous Judge Dredd strip based on the I Am The Law track from Anthrax on the recent Anthrax graphic novel from Z2 Comics!

CW: I don’t know why it never crossed my mind to ask Anthrax to lay down a dirty death-metal backtrack behind Klegg’s vocal rhapsodies. It all seems like a horribly missed opportunity. Damn you, John Wick!

Now, we’ve had musical references littered through the history of 2000 AD for many years, and there’s a huge number of fans of 2000 AD out there in music…Human League, Motorhead, Portishead, Anthrax… etc, etc. – have those fed into this new Judge Dredd: The Musical?

RW: Not really. There’s a certain Ice T and Public Enemy influence in Klegg‘s last two albums: Judge Kisser and Fear Of A Klegg Planet. There’s a bit of a Hamilton influence in the musical too. I will say this though, pitching a story featuring a Judge Dredd Musical is one thing, but writing the lyrics for the songs is way more challenging than I thought. It is extremely silly though. It made me laugh a lot.

Well, you’ve no-one to blame but yerself for that one, Rob!

Given that the Thrills of the Future ad gives off this sort of Hip Hop and Rap vibe, I’m assuming at least one of you is a bit of an old-skool fan?

CW: I must confess, I’m not the biggest hip-hop fan in the universe. I’m more into Prog at the moment, which is an appropriately titled musical genre for a fan of The Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. I do have one Ice-T album, though: Home Invasion, which I really love. Me and the Missus used to play it a lot while we were doing the cooking. We’d be this white, middle-class couple, in our nice kitchen, pausing in our consumption of red wine to rap along with his angry lyrical diatribes (such as Race War and G-style)… and I remember asking my wife: “Do you think this is what Ice-T would have wanted?

Yes. Absolutely yes. Middle-class rebellion is the new counter-culture!

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Chris, seeing as we’re doing music here, how much fun was it to get to take part in that Anthrax book from Z2 Comics? You had 13 incredibly detailed pages there, written by Scott Ian from Anthrax, all inspired by Anthrax’s I Am the Law, one of those great occasions where 2000 AD and Dredd gets to appear outside the pages of the Prog or the Meg.

You also happened to manage to sneak in a possible demise for old Joe in there? How did that one come about – both the storyline and the gig itself?

CW: I have got Grant Morrison to thank for that. Grant has been living a glamorous, celebrity-packed lifestyle in Los Angeles and at some point they crossed paths with Scott Ian. Scott was on the lookout for an artist to draw his Dredd strip, and Grant generously put my name forward.

Yep, it’s always who you know!

CW: Scott then sent me a Marvel-style synopsis, and I converted that into a traditional 2000 AD-style script, with panel breakdowns and place-holder dialogue. I roughed up the whole story and sent it to Scott. He approved it and polished the dialogue and I went straight to finished inks. It all happened quite quickly, by my standards. I poured so much detail into the crowd scenes; fragments of Mick McMahon interviews would drift into my head where he lamented about how drawing Block Mania nearly killed him. I thought, “I know what you mean, Mick, mate.”

Again, just as with Rob bemoaning the musical nightmare he’d written himself into, I think that’s all your own fault Chris – although the result was pretty damn great.

Lights! Camera! Action – the curtain rises on Judge Dredd: The Musical.
Chris Weston’s sneak peek of a future finished b&w page.

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Now, this is but the latest collaboration between the two of you – plans for more down the line at some point?

RW: Oh, It’s always a treat to work with Chris for a number of reasons. His art’s wonderful, of course, but I always enjoy how we knock ideas back and forth. This one came out of a phone conversation and I think Chris said something about how Klegg should write a Judge Dredd musical. But also, the older and grumpier I get, I just enjoy working with friends. Chris and Laurence Campbell and a few others. It’s just fun. 

I’m sure we’ll probably do more Dredd at some point. I hope so anyway.

We all hope so too!

Although, of course, Rob might want to keep his cards close to his chest here, after all, Chris does seem to be having a fine time recently writing and drawing his own stuff for the Prog! Most recent of which was that ridiculously funny 3-page Future Shock The Guardian and the God-child in Prog 2250!

So, Chris – planning on ditching Rob for good?

RW: He’s quite reasonably worked out that he can do this writing stuff himself and get twice the money.

CW: I wish I could say there was some sort of plan or design to my career. I’d probably be a lot richer if there was. I tend to just drift along, never looking further ahead than the story I’m working on. A fortunate side-effect of that is my being available for the odd film job that comes along. Dredd stories, which aren’t a great commitment, time-wise, fit that pattern nicely. So I doubt this will be my last trip to Mega-City One, although I would be happier if Rob and I could cook up something new and creator-owned for ourselves. We keep talking about it, but the timing has never worked out.

More treats for you – another of Chris’ sumptuous inked pages for Judge Dredd: The Musical

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Okay gents, as usual, to finish up – what’s coming up next for you both?

RW: For 2000 AD I’m working on a new series of Hershey at the moment. We have a finite end in sight there and a definite story we’re telling. Simon Fraser’s back on art there.

Elsewhere a couple of comic things on a very famous franchise that isn’t announced yet, so I can’t say anything there. And I have a couple of TV projects I’m developing for Production Companies, but again, no announcements just yet.

CW: Nothing concrete yet. I’m just mulling over some offers and ideas, and doing a few private commissions while I make my mind up.

Thank you to both Chris and Rob for taking the time to get a few words down to us – always appreciated.

And you, dear reader, can experience the wonders of Sensitive Klegg’s musical extravaganza in Judge Dredd: The Musical, beginning in 2000 AD Prog 2259, available from all good comic shops and newsagents, as well as the 2000 AD web shop and on subscription – out on 24 November.

You can also grab the Chris Weston Dredd strip in the Anthrax anthology Among The Living from Z2 Comics. Here’s the artist with the book and a couple of pages of the Dredd strip…

And a couple of vids to end with – Anthrax’s I Am The Law and the Anthrax & Public Enemy classic – Bring The Noise – enjoy!

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Interview: Debutant art droid Rob Richardson talks Future Shocks and first times…

The Future Shock has been the classic entry point for new writers and artists throughout the long history of 2000 AD, cautionary tales from the infinite worlds of the universe that have become the things of legend, their shocking ends a salutory lesson in hubris.

And in 2000 AD Prog 2257, out now, we get a Prog debutant on art duties on the Future Shock tale, Keyboard Warriors, written by Karl Stock. The artist is Rob Richardson who gets to draw his first Future Shock that takes us to a distant world, mineral-rich, with a mining company busy resettling the native people… with force if necessary. But, in Keyboard Warriors, the resettlement gets done remotely, drone invaders sitting comfortably many miles away in their little cubicles. Of course, as this is a Future Shock, what do you reckon happens when the natives on the next planet go on the offensive?

Now, let’s chat to Rob Richardson

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First of all, Rob, introductions are in order! So, who are you, what have you done, and how the devil are you?

RR: I’m good, thanks! I’m an illustrator living in Sheffield and working on a variety of stuff – storyboarding, video games, T-shirt designs, film production art and whatever comes my way.

In 2000 AD Prog 2257, you’ve got your debut work for the Prog, with the Karl Stack scripted Future Shocks: Keyboard Warriors.

What does it mean to you getting that first Prog credit?

RR: A credit in 2000 AD is an absolute highlight and, genuinely, something I’ve aspired to since I was a kid. I still can’t believe it.

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Now, I’m hoping I’m not insulting you too much by saying you’re no spring chicken, having been working for 20+ years in advertising, film, TV, and games with storyboards and illustration. But am I right in saying you haven’t had all that much to do with comics over your career?

RR: As a teenager, I constantly drew my own stories (printed in Nick Percival’s first self-published comic in the 80s!), and got a job at Sheffield’s Nostalgia and Comics shop where I would meet and get advice from many established artists and writers.

I’d lug my portfolio to UKCAC and GlasCAC every year, and was courted by a few publishers but ended up taking a job in video games and focusing on that instead.

Well, it’s a small world indeed! You were at N&C Sheffield whilst I was working at N&C Birmingham (Now World’s Apart Birmingham).

RR: Ah, cool – was that with Phil Clarke at N&C?

That’s right. An absolute pioneer of comics retail here in the UK and my very first boss as a 16-year-old!

RR: It seemed like all the local artists either worked in or shopped at our branch- Nick Percival of course, Dean Ormston, Greg Staples, Si Spencer, Matt Brooker, Pete Doherty et al. Great times!

Great shops to work at! There was a real comics buzz in the air when I was at N&C. Must’ve been there as assistant manager for four or five years. I’m really pleased to be in the prog alongside Matt/ D’Israeli, he gave me my first brush pen back in the 90s when we traveled down to UKCAC.

That is definitely a who’s who of 2000 AD art droids coming from one store!

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So, having moved away from comics, how did this debut in 2000 AD come about now?

RR: With the initial Covid lockdown most film production got halted and I had time to work on some sample comics pages. Drinking tea and talking comics with Nick Percival led to Nick kindly sending my pages to Tharg, who offered me the Future Shock.

Hah, that’s sort of how we got Dermot Power back to the Prog as well! Well, we’re glad to have you, film production’s loss is comics gain again!

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So, you’ve been an artist since young and you’ve told us that getting into the Prog is something you wanted since you were a kid. I’m assuming you were with 2000 AD as a reader from early on?

RR: Oh yes, I read 2000 AD from Prog 1 (my Space Spinner’s stored in the loft) and picked it up every week from the newsagent, who wrote ‘Richardson’ on the cover in biro! I’ve always loved sci-fi and would read each issue over and over. It remains a fantastic comic and I’m always blown away by the quality of writing and art.

Okay then, while we’re talking quality art, what artists have influenced you over the years?

RR: In comics, I tend to look at old stuff such as Alex Raymond and Milton Caniff. I especially love EC comics, and many Marvel and DC silver and bronze age artists.

With 2000 AD, I leaned toward Mick McMahon and Ian Gibson as a child, copying their art and trying to understand how it was done.

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And while we’re talking about art, how do you make yours?

RR: Process wise, I do fairly detailed thumbnails in pencil, around 13cm high, then these get scanned and enlarged to full-page size. I work over the thumbnails for digital pencils, then digital inks, and last I add grey tones.

Now, seeing as you’ve got your first gig a bit later in life, is there any advice you’d give to up-and-coming artists about getting into comics in general, and into 2000 AD in particular?

RR: In my experience, stick at it for about thirty-five years and doors will open! Seriously, though, it all comes down to storytelling, everything springs from that.

In the future, when you get the call to draw your dream 2000 AD strip, what would it be?

RR: I’ve actually had that call already, and I’m working on it now, but I imagine my goalposts will shift once I’ve finished it. I’d love to get to a point where I can write and draw my own strip.

Hey, congratulations on that dream strip, we’ll look forward to it!

Finally, what’s coming up for you in the near, or not so near future?

RR: Hopefully more 2000AD work, it really is a dream come true!

And finally, finally, I understand you might have a connection with a certain Sheffield zombie punk band? The wonderfully named Iron Sphincter-The Zombie Band.

RR: Well, I may or may not be the Archdeacon Of Gruyère for Iron Sphincter – I mean, it’s all for fun, but they’re totally anonymous, and the Archdeacon wears a full balaclava, bloodied lab coat, and has four arms! Iron Sphincter are trying out a new drummer next Tuesday, hopefully in time to rehearse our infamous Xmas carol service!

Now that sounds like a very cool Christmas gig!

The Archdeacon Of Gruyère of Iron Sphincter

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That’s it for now from Rob Richardson, although you’ll be able to see more from him in 2022 with that dream 2000 AD job he was talking about. In the meantime, his first work at 2000 AD comes in Prog 2257, out from 10 November from all the best comic shops, newsagents, and the 2000 AD web shop.

You can catch up with Rob and his FatRobot Illustration at fatrobot.crevado.com, robrichardson.crevado.com, instagram.com/fatrobotillustration, and Twitter at @FatRobotDraws.

And of course, should you want to check out Iron Sphincter – The Zombie Band, here’s there Twitter, and here’s just a hint of what they’re all about…

And finally, Rob was kind enough to send over his process pages – thumbnails, pencils, and inks, for the first couple of pages of what proves to be a damn fine debut and a great Future Shock, Keyboard Warriors.

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Interview: Enemy Earth, Eco-Peril, and why horror works for 2000 AD Regened!

It’s time to get Regened again, as the all-ages 2000 AD Prog 2256 lands on newsstands – featuring a new tale of Cadet Dredd, a particularly twisty and turny Time Twisters, the return of Middenface McNulty and his granny’s very special mutt, Dougal in Strontium Dug, and two completely new tales – Scooter & Jinx by James Peaty and Steve Roberts, and an eco-nightmare of a world turned against humanity in Enemy Earth by Cavan Scott and Luke Horsman.

And it was my pleasure to catch up with both Cavan Scott and Luke Horsman recently to talk about Enemy Earth

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So, Cavan, Luke, lovely to talk to you here – hopefully, both of you are keeping safe, sane, and well after the fun of these Covid times.

It’s nearly time for the final 2000 AD Regened Prog of the year – coming out on 3 November – 2000 AD Regened Prog 2256.

And inside, you’re bringing us a completely new strip – Enemy Earth.

With new strips, there’s very little for me to go on – so… what’s Enemy Earth all about. I’m assuming, given the title and the teaser art, we’re looking at some disaster future tale of an Earth where humanity is under threat… that sort of thing? Anywhere near?

CAVAN SCOTT: Bang on the money. Enemy Earth is a post-apocalyptic story that starts a number of years after the flora and fauna of earth has mutated, turning on the humans. Suddenly our home is trying to kill us in as many ways as possible. 

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And I’m assuming it’s something set away from existing 2000 AD worlds… not part of Dredd or Rogue Trooper or anything like that?

CS: That’s right. Something absolutely new. 

Is this something that was pitched, or did Matt or Keith come to you in particular for the strip?

CS: The idea originally came from Keith Richardson, who was the editor of 2000 AD Regened before it was folded into the main Prog. It dates back to August 2018 where I received a basic brief for the series and was asked to develop it as a three-parter, back when Regened was going to be a comic in its own right. I submitted the breakdown but it was shelved when Regened started individual takeover issues and I was asked to write Rogue Trooper instead. Fast forward to earlier this year and I came upon that breakdown and dropped Matt a line saying ‘you know, there’s still something in this…”

The big problem with new strips is always that it’s a hell of a lot of lead-in work for a one-off strip – although obviously there’s always the idea in the back of your heads (I’m sure) to structure it so there’s the possibility of returning to the world you’ve created.

CS: We’re definitely looking at this being the pilot for a new returning strip.

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Luke, does the new strip mean a shift in your art at all?

LUKE HORSMAN:  No shift in work at all from my side. 

Again, looking at the teaser image I have of it, I’m getting some sort of horror vibe of it all, or at least peril – but that’s something that I’ve always thought is absolutely essential for kids to experience.

LH: Oh, definitely some light-hearted peril, for sure.

I can remember loving all sorts of scary stuff as a kid – the Fighting Fantasy books, Dr Who on the TV, Alan Garner books, that sort of thing and I’m guessing you’re both of the same mind when it comes to giving the kids a damn good scare?

CS: Absolutely. I think Keith originally came to me because of the work I’d been doing writing all-age horror for Star Wars: Tales from Vader’s Castle, which is the annual Halloween event I’ve been writing for IDW for the last few years. We’ve been re-interpreting classic horror movies in the Star Wars galaxy – riffing on the Wicker Man with Ewoks for example, or turning Count Dooku into Count Dracula. Lucasfilm has allowed me to get quite scary in those, which is something we’re keen to do here too.

LH: I do love a good horror comic, and I certainly love adding a little darkness to a cartoon. Makes for some fun pages. 

And I suppose that feeds into 2000 AD as well? When it started off, we had the likes of 2000 AD, Action, Scream! and others all telling stories to kids and grown-ups alike.

But over the years it’s changed – the whole comics aren’t for kids thing that just went too far in so many ways, resulting in kids practically being excluded from comics.

CS: I couldn’t agree more. We need more gateway comics to ensure the future of fandom. It’s as simple as that. 

Luke’s lineart for page 1 of Enemy Earth

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So we have Regened bringing some of that original all-ages vibe back to 2000 AD.

With both of you having contributed to Regened Progs with Rogue Trooper & Anderson (Cavan), and Cadet Dredd, Action Pact, and Future Shocks (Luke), have you got some insights into the way that Regened has changed and shifted since that first Prog back in 2018 for FCBD?

Personally, I think it’s actually shifted quite a lot from a very all-ages thing, embracing a sort of Ben-10 vibe in some ways, to something that feels a little more edgy, a little darker, and willing to go into the sorts of territory that we read as kids (well, at least myself and Cavan – we’re a similar age – Luke, I think you’ve got the benefit of youth on us both!)

LH: Heh, if you call 40 youthful , I’ll take it!..  

Oh yes, when we’re looking closer at 50… it’s definitely youthful!

LH: I think Regened is definitely becoming a more varied series that everyone can enjoy. While I generally draw and enjoy fairly cartoony work, I like to think my style sits in the middle somewhere. 

CS: To be honest, my attitude has been the same throughout: to write scripts that are truly all-ages, ie. that can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. Sure, perhaps you dial back on some of the gore, but stories are stories no matter who you’re writing for. Kids don’t like to be talked down to when reading comics. They want stuff that is going to challenge them as well as entertain. That’s what I’ve been trying to do with my Regened stories. 

What were your own experiences of getting into comics as readers? 

CS: Like a lot of Brits, I started with the likes of Beano, Nutty, and Whizzer & Chips, before discovering the wealth of titles Marvel UK was putting out in the late 70s / early 80s. And, of course, it wasn’t long before I picked up things like 2000 AD and Scream!, the latter really leaning into my life-long love of horror and monsters. 

LH: The very first comics I read that I bought myself were issues of Commando. I loved absorbing those short war stories in those lovely little compact format books. Those and the Eagle & 2000 AD of course. 

The complete double-page line art by Luke for Enemy Earth – pages 2-3

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And how do you see the future of comics – do you think that the industry is moving into a good place for that future as far as engaging with younger readers?

CS: I think we’re seeing movement in the right direction, especially as traditional publishers have started to embrace graphic novels and, on the other side of the pond, more and more publishers launching middle grade and YA lines. DC has been doing a lot of great work in this area in particular, with junior versions of everything from Wonder Woman to John Constantine. But we need to push things further, making it easy for kids to get their hands on comics, which means that we also need to get schools, librarians, teachers, and book-sellers on board. 

LH: I think the industry is still very strong and the readership is very varied indeed. I work a lot in the Indie comics industry and I see a vast amount of books aimed at the full spectrum of ages. People can’t get enough of comics these days. I hope it continues. 

And with more Regened coming in 2022 and beyond – and of course the new Monster Fun comic, which I know you’re involved with, Cavan – what characters and strips would you love to play a part in bringing into either Regened or Monster Fun and delighting the kids with?

CS: Well, I’m really pleased to be writing Frankie Stein for Monster Fun, a character I loved as a kid and one I think will transfer well to modern readers too. As for Regened, well, I’m hoping that we’ll see Enemy Earth running for a while yet. 

More of Luke’s gorgeously tight line art for Enemy Earth

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Finally, what’s coming up for both of you?

LH: I’m currently working on another Cadet Dredd strip for a future Regened issue. Along with a myriad of indy books, Ennead: The Rule of Nine being one. An epic, high fantasy adventure romp.

CS: I’m currently writing Star Wars: The High Republic for Marvel, Titans United for DC and Shadow Service, my own creator-owned book for Vault. There are a few secret projects progressing in the background, both for the big two and more creator-owned work and I’m currently developing a number of television shows. 

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And with that, we had to let both Cavan and Luke get back to their work! After all, Tharg doesn’t allow the droids to take too much time away from slaving away over making great comics… although how he feels about both Luke and Cavan working on other strips… last we heard, he was marching down to the droid cells work-area muttering about how the 15 minutes a day they get for free-time was obviously being abused.

Thanks to Cavan and Luke for talking to us – hopefully Tharg will be merciful! Find out more from them at Cavan’s website and Twitter and Luke’s website and Twitter.

You can find the first episode of Enemy Earth in 2000 AD Regened Prog 2256 on the shelves in your local newsagents and comic shops, as well as in the 2000 AD web shop from 3 November.

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Interview: Who’s A Gud Boy? Talking Strontium Dug with David Baillie and Colin MacNeil

It’s the return of Joko-Jargo and Regened, Earthlets, bringing you the latest all-ages thrills for young and old when Regened 2000 AD Prog 2256 – out now! Inside, there’s fun a-plenty with Cadet Dredd, Time Twisters, plus two completely new tales in Scooter & Jinx by James Peaty and Steve Roberts and Enemy Earth by Cavan Scott and Luke Horsman.

But there’s also a very special reappearance (well, sort of) of a Strontium Dog character from the past – when we welcome back Middenface McNulty and his granny’s very special mutt, Dougal in Strontium Dug, written by David Baillie and with art from Colin MacNeil.

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So, David, Colin, lovely to talk to you – hopefully both of you are keeping safe, sane, and well after the fun of these Covid times.

DAVID BAILLIE: Always safe. Never sane, though – that way lies boredom!

It’s nearly time for the final 2000 AD Regened Prog of the year – coming out on 3 October – 2000 AD Regened Prog 2256. And inside, you’re bringing us a strip I don’t think anyone imagined would ever happen – Strontium Dug, with Middenface McNulty‘s pup on the case – ‘dogged in pursuit of the galaxy’s criminals.’

So… what? why? Give us all you can of what we can expect from Strontium Dug?

DB: If you don’t mind, I’ll respond to this question in the voice of the Strontium Dug himself:

Woof! Ruff, ruff — grrrrr! Owwww… Ruff ruff woof!

Hope that clears that up.

But of course it does!

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Middenface has had a couple of ‘Dugs’ over the years, as far as I can remember – Dougal the Dug, who died in tragic SD circumstances, and his littermate, Black Boab. This new Dug? Is he a littermate? a rebooted original? an alt-reality mutt?

DB: Well if Middenface’s granny is to be believed, this Dougal, Dougal IX, is a clone of the original Black Boab. The IX in his name even suggests a long line of canine tragedies since we met that guy. But our story also suggests that pretty much everything Middenface’s granny says is to be taken with a pinch of salt, so feel free to disbelieve her… At your own risk!

Colin – did you take inspiration from those previous iterations – either Simon Harrison or John McCrea’s bundle of rather violent and snapping black fur and teeth?

Colin MacNeil: No, this one’s all mine! The script was already written when I came on board, so the dog had to be designed to fit the strip. If I’d been involved at an earlier stage, then the dog could have certainly been a lot different, but then the story would have been different too. Just as in real life, it’s all about the right dog for the right job.

The generations of Dug…
from left to right – art by Simon Harrison (from ‘The No-Go Job’ Progs 580-587, 1988),
John McCrea (from ‘Wan Man an’ His Dug’ Judge Dredd Megazine 1.15-1.20, 1991–1992),
and Colin MacNeil (right here, right now!)

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David, is this something that was pitched, or did Matt come to you in particular for the strip?

DB: The idea was born late one night a few years ago. I was in Turkey scripting a film with my occasional co-writer Dan Lester (Prog 1932, fact fans!). Between mammoth Fade In sessions one night, over a bottle of Turkish moonshine, we took turns coming up with ridiculous story ideas.

I proposed Strontium Dog‘s Dog – and rattled off a quick plot for what could happen if, instead of Johnny Alpha bounty hunting, it was his dog that tracked down the bad guys. We laughed, then I stopped laughing, wrote it in my notebook – and waited for Tharg to ask if I had any ideas.

David – you’ve become something of the go-to guy with Strontium Dog adjacent Regened strips now, with The Trouble With Gronks (read the interview on that one here) and now this!

DB: Huh – I hadn’t actually noticed that. I’m a huge Strontium Dog nerd (although not as nerdy as I thought I was – see later in the interview!) and will wrestle any other writer to work in that universe. Any! Even if Stone Cold Steve Austen starts writing for 2000 AD!

So, next up? Young Middenface perhaps?

DB: I’d love to do a Young Middenface story, now you mention it. Wait – if I write one now, do I owe you some sort of inspiration fee?

Oh yes, yes you do. I’ll take it in MC-1 credits.

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Actually, thinking about that, so far in the Regened Progs we’ve only really seen Johnny Alpha as a young kid, up until the point he gets to become a Strontium Dog. But with Dug, and maybe Middenface, are we getting the first glimpses of an older set of Strontium Dogs inside the world of Regened.

DB: In this story we see Middenface at his usual vintage – grown up and grumpy. I’ve been treating our Regened stories as being in regular continuity, so it wasn’t breaking any (of my own) rules using him here.

Is it a more recognisable Strontium Dog setting, maybe with the Dog House? Or is it something that stands very much on its own?

DB: This tale takes place on Evan’s World, named for the sadly-missed creator and editor Dave Evans, BOLT-01. It is, according to the script I have in front of me, “A wee artificial planetoid just ootside the Kuiper Belt.”

That’s a wonderful little touch and a fine tribute to a much-missed name in 2000 AD history.

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When you’re dealing with these established characters in the new Regened setting – is there any sort of playbook for dealing with the Regened versions of the characters?

DB: Quite the reverse – I’ve been careful not to contradict regular continuity, so that we can shift from one mode to the other, simply by either inserting or removing exploding brains from a couple of panels. (I can’t believe you tricked me into giving away my Regened writing formula!)

And would it be something you could see working as a Regened strip, a full-on Strontium Dog or Strontium Dug series Regened style?

DB: The further adventures of Strontium Dug would definitely still work without the Regened tag. We’d just have more exploding brains.

But as for more Regened Stront action – Alec Worley and Ben Wilsher’s Young John Alpha story in the very first Regened is absolutely perfect. I rave about it whenever I can, and it turns out this is yet another opportunity to do just that. (Track it down if you haven’t read it!) I would read a million Young Strontium Dog stories by that team!

If you want to track down that Worley and Wilsher Johnny Alpha, Earthlets, and you should, it’s in the first Regened collection – available at the 2000 AD web shop!

I’d imagine the classic bounty hunter/cowboys in space aspect of it would work extremely well for an all-ages readership.

DB: It’s certainly the sort of stuff I loved when I was a youngster. (I think I read my first classic Strontium Dog when I was six or seven – what better age to marvel at the many horrors of The Slavers of Drule?)

Or perhaps there’s a series of Dug strips in planning stages right now?

DB: Colin and I have certainly discussed the potential for more Dougal IX! We’ll see…

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Now, perhaps most importantly of all – David, did you finally manage to get Victoria Coren Mitchell into the pages here? Or do we have to wait for that momentous event in some future Baillie scripted strip?

DB: She was in the script! My mentioning her the last time we spoke was an elaborate attempt at setting up a joke. The punchline was going to be a statue of her in the Solenoid Casino, where this story takes place. For reasons of clarity, and space – and definitely nothing to do with the restraining order you hinted at in our last interview! – Colin didn’t get a chance to draw said statue.

Aside from presenting the greatest quiz show of all time (Only Connect) Victoria is also the only poker player to have won two European Tour championships. So it makes perfect sense they’d have a solid gold statue of her in a futuristic space casino. Now please, Ms Coren Mitchell, if you’re reading this: can you ask your lawyers to leave me alone?

Yes, and talking of that last time we chatted, about your Chopper strip in the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special 2021, you mentioned you were working on something ‘for an upcoming Regened Prog starring a very familiar face, to be drawn by a firm fan favourite artist, who I’ve worshipped since I was a nipper‘ – I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that Strontium Dug is the familiar face and Colin MacNeil is the artist you’ve worshipped since you were a nipper?

DB: Yup! I spent hours studying Colin’s art as a teenager – especially classic tales like Top Dogs in the 1991 annual and Song of the Surfer in the Prog. When I was at uni, a friend told me that she was Colin’s cousin and I was honestly speechless for about twenty minutes. How could Colin MacNeil be human?!! Oh how she laughed, as I clutched by Tesco bag full of recently purchased 2000 AD back issues. (This is actually true – I went round to hers for tea after buying a bunch of old 2000 ADs at Double Zero comics in Edinburgh!)

Oh – and a prize to anyone who can tell me where Double Zero got its name. I’ll give you a clue, it’s a Dredd reference!

And you can get hold of David at his Twitter to claim your prize!

DB: I just saw the coloured pages the other day and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Chris Blythe and Simon Bowland have worked wonders, as always. As ever, I cannae believe my luck.

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Colin, did you make any changes to your usual process for the Regened strip?

CM: When I got the script I noticed there were a number of technical details in the script that were incorrect that needed sorting first. Tharg put me in touch with David so we could sort it out together. Once that was done, then I got on with drawing it as per normal. I did make an effort to try and keep the images bright, as opposed to the normal heavy blacks of my latest drawing style. I think this strip was a reasonable first effort, but I’m definitely looking forward to doing more and making it better.

DB: Yeah – I thought I was the ultimate Strontium Nerd and assumed I wouldn’t need to Google any Strontium details. I was using a Time Trap (in a now deleted scene) like a Time Drogue, and Colin spotted my mistake immediately! I’d also been suffering under the misapprehension all these years that the Lifewire (standard SD kit) was electrified. Carlos always drew it surrounded by wee ‘spiky’ lines (emenata) in his brilliant tech-demo montage sequences. Looking at those panels again with 40-something-year-old eyes, it’s clear that was just his way of conveying how sharp the monofilament is.

These technical hiccups actually helped, because they got myself and Colin talking on the phone, and after a great couple of chats we moulded our Strontium Dug tale into a far better story.

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With both Regened and the new Monster Fun series in 2022, we’re seeing Rebellion and 2000 AD more engaged with kids than ever, grabbing them on two fronts now – sci-fi and humour. What were your own experiences of getting into comics as readers?

CM: Comics were a normal part of life for kids in the early 70’s. I was no different. I read Twinkle when very young, soon progressing on to the likes of Sparky, Topper, Dandy, then Hotspur, Victor, Warlord, Action and finally 2000 AD in 1977.

DB: Those early 80s black and white Marvel UK reprints. Stan and Jack X-Men and Thor, Spider-Man Weekly and then Transformers (also Marvel UK). I talked with Nick Roche and Mike Molcher on the Thrillcast recently about this – pretty much every British comic reader born between 1976 and 1980 adored the Transformers comic. No one outside of that very narrow age bracket would believe just how good a weekly comic based on a toy licence could be. Simon Furman deserves some sort of prestigious award for achieving the seemingly impossible!

And how do you see the future of comics – do you think that the industry is moving into a good place for that future as far as engaging with younger readers?

DB: I’ve been lucky enough to see lots of youngsters pick up their first comics in the last few years. It’s absolutely electrifying watching their faces light up as they realise they’ve discovered a whole new world. I think we’ll be okay.

Finally, what’s coming up for both of you?

CM: A new John Wagner strip for the Megazine.

Oh yes! More from you and John is always the best news for the fans!

DB: I’ve been kept away from comics this year by a couple of TV projects, but I’m determined to get back in the saddle ASAP. I have a mini-series with wunderkind artist Conor Boyle that we’re hoping to finish soon, something in the pipeline with another regular 2000 AD collaborator, also for the Americans – and I have an idea that I’m just about to send to The Mighty One, that I think will melt the eyeballs of Squaxx Dek Thargo all around the world.

And any news on the Red Thorn TV series that got optioned, David? (Yeah, I know, loads of NDAs! But I figure I’d keep asking in case there’s more you can tell us!)

DB: I imagine that if any such Non Disclosure Agreement existed, it would contractually forbid me from confirming its existence. That’s the sort of  Möbian logic knot that I love putting in my own stories. All I can really say (Can I? I don’t know…) is that some pretty big names have read the Red Thorn comics and love what Meghan Hetrick and I did in them.

Tease!

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Thanks to both David and Colin for chatting with us. Their Strontium Dug can be found, being a very, very gud boy indeed, in 2000 AD Regened Prog 2256. It’s out from 3 November, in all gud comic shops, newsagents, and the 2000 AD web shop.

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Interview: an all-Ages True Romance?

The new all-ages 2000 AD Regened is out now – featuring the all-new strip, Scooter & Jinx – and we talk to the creative team behind this new series, James Peaty and Steve Roberts!

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So, James, Steve, lovely to talk to you here – In fact, it’s the first time I’ve properly spoken to you at length Steve, although we did chat about your cover for 2000 AD Regened Prog 2246 recently in Covers Uncovered (right here).

Hopefully both of you are keeping safe, sane, and well after well, you know…

JAMES PEATY: Safe? Keeping out of trouble! Well? Touch wood! Sane? This is an open question…

Inside the last Regened Prog of 2021, you’re bringing us a completely new strip – Scooter & Jinx. So, first things first… what’s Scooter & Jinx all about?

JP: Scooter & Jinx is an outer space riff on that tried and tested genre staple: the odd couple on the lam. So there’s a bit of True Romance, Thelma & Louise with a dash of The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man. But unlike those stories our ‘road’ is the farthest reaches of the galaxy and our ‘odd couple’ are a golden alien war machine and a rascally anthropomorphic cat burglar.

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JP: It’s a new strip so not based on anything pre-existing within 2000AD. The title and the basic idea is one I’ve had for a long time, but I wasn’t 100% sure what to do with it. But when Matt asked if I’d like to pitch something for the next Regened issue a lightbulb went off and I thought this might be the right place for it. Luckily, Matt agreed! Matt’s big contribution was to say: ‘Make it more alien’, so we ran with that. Steve especially!

The big problem with new strips is that it’s a hell of a lot of lead-in work for a one-off strip – although obviously there’s always the idea in the back of your heads (I’m sure) to structure it so there’s the possibility of returning to the world you’ve created.

JP: Definitely. These sort of strips are very much ‘pilot episodes’ if you like, so you want to end on a note where there’s a possibility of more stories over the horizon. But at the same time, the initial story itself has to work on its own terms. I think we’ve managed to do that. A LOT happens in 10 pages.

But in terms of prep work – as I said, I had the two main characters in mind from the start and a general direction, but a lot of it unfolds in the telling. And you respond to the artwork. I have some ideas about where it’ll go, but just looking at Steve’s work gets you thinking in a hundred different directions. I’ve recently been rewatching The Sopranos and it’s interesting watching the pilot again. Clearly, a lot of what the show would be was in David Chase’s mind already, but so much of it clearly isn’t. Same with Twin Peaks. I think both those shows are tonally certain from the start, but also narratively open. So that’s kind of what we were trying to do here. Suggest a world beyond the frame, but don’t be a prisoner to any preconceived notions. 

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Steve, how did you come onto Scooter & Jinx?

STEVE ROBERTS: After completing the Future Shock for Regened, I got in contact with Matt to enquire about the possibility of doing something else for the comic and I was really pleased when he sent over the Scooter and Jinx script. I really enjoyed the story and characters and liked the idea of illustrating a longer 10 page story.

I’d definitely like to do more Scooter and Jinx, they’re great to draw! But I’ve also got a perfectionist streak so I would love to have another go at developing them and their world a bit more. There are things I would like to do a bit differently if I could. I’ve always wanted to draw a full-on Sci-Fi story starring loads of aliens and absolutely no humans!

The world James had created seemed very solid and fully formed on the page.I really wanted to get straight into doing the rough page layouts as soon as possible.

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Jinx was described as cat-like in the script. I sketched him a lot. Lots of thumbnails as he wasn’t looking right. A bit too ‘cool’. I think he ended up looking a bit Lynx-like. He was also described in the script as possibly being a bit like Nicholas Cage. I tried to bring a bit of Cage to the design but I’m not sure anybody would see that but me! Scooter was a bit easier to design.Her clothes were meant to be quite 50’s inspired. I don’t think I quite got that as I would have liked but I was pleased with the design in the end. I did a lot of the design work was I roughed out the page layouts actually which is quite unusual. I think the clarity of the story helped.I would like to draw them again as every time you draw a character you get more of a handle on them.

Steve, your particular 2000 AD story is one of breaking through in 2002 with work on Sinister Dexter, at least I think that was it?

SR: It was Sinister Dexter, yeah. It feels a long time ago now. It was all very new to me but I remember being over the moon to be drawing something for 2000 AD at last after a couple of years sending in sample artwork. The stories were great but challenging when you haven’t drawn comics for publication before. I do slightly wince when I see my art on those early strips now. Some things were ok but others were a bit off! They are great characters but I’m not sure I got it right. I’m not sure I could draw their world convincingly but it was fun.

And it all started off with Simon Davis I believe?

SR: I had finished my time in further education and I had spent most of the four years at college obsessed with the idea of doing comics. I was very single minded. Maybe a bit close minded really looking back. I could have possibly got more out of art college if I had been more interested in discovering other things. I got more interested in other subjects as I went along I think and some non-comics stuff did eventually sink in. After college I was a bit lost without the structure of education but still very committed to getting into 2000 AD. Simon kindly agreed to have a look through my portfolio, way before I got anything in print and he advised me. He gave lots of invaluable tips and gave me the confidence to keep sending sample art into 2000 AD until eventually I got in the comic. It was really great of him to help me out like that.

We’ve been friends ever since. I used to go over and work in his studio for a while which was always fun. Lots of tea and listening to bad radio plays whilst working. Very rock n’ roll. Most enjoyable times!

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You worked at 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine until about 2010, one of only a few artists doing the more (for want of a better phrase) cartoony style, when the vogue was for more serious stylings. You also co-created, with Si Spurrier, the comedy strip Bec and Kawl, another rarity in 2000 AD. There was also your work on the final series of Banzai Battalion, picking up the artistic reins from Cam Kennedy, Ian Gibson, and Henry Flint. And on top of all that, you also brought your stylings to Judge Dredd in the Metro newspaper.

But, after co-creating another comedy, Black Atlantic, this time with Dan Abnett, for the Megazine, and altering your style hugely for the black and white Angel Gang, again with Si Spurrier, you disappeared from the pages of both the Prog and the Meg.

SR: Well, I believe 2000 AD, as an anthology, has always had more light hearted strips illustrated in a more ‘cartoony style’.

I loved those as a kid. I loved Ian Gibsons work and ACE Trucking of course. I was also into the comics other than so my style of drawing was just naturally cartoony I guess. That was the style I found the most enjoyable to draw in. My favourite comic as a kid was Asterix and also read Whizzer and Chips a lot. I liked drawing cartoons. Luckily I managed to find a place in the comic.

I really loved working with Si on Bec and Kawl. It was a very relaxed collaborative experience. His stories were excellent to work from and gave me so many great things to illustrate I really did get to draw anything I’d always wanted to. We’d have great chats about ideas on the phone and then off it went! I know some readers really didn’t like the strip but I’m fond of Bec and Kawl and still occasionally doodle them when I should drawing something else.

Banzai Battalion was really enjoyable too. I was a bit nervous about that one though. Working from a John Wagner script and of course lot of brilliant artists had worked on it in the past. I didn’t want to mess it up! I was actually relatively satisfied with the end result!

I think it was onto the Angel Gang stories with Si after that and thought I would challenge myself by trying a grittier style. I thought I would give it a go! Which really, just meant me adding more moody shadow and pen lines. In the end, I came to the conclusion that I preferred trying to make the art as immediate and clear as possible. I’d rather that than every panel looking like a standalone illustration which doesn’t help the story flow. I returned to a more cartoony style on Black Atlantic which was a series I would have liked to have drawn more of, but it wasn’t to be. They were great, funny adventure stories which is what I like to draw.

So, where did you go from there?

Over the years, I’d discovered Ghibli films and Krazy Kat and The Moomins and had fond memories of the TV series that Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin had produced. I started to enjoy drawing characters and comics that were for a younger audience. Really embracing the ‘cartoony’ I guess! Very few people saw these comics as they were just attempts at writing and drawing my own stuff and I was a bit self-conscious about them. I have always loved animation and back in college I had briefly thought about trying to become an animator but it was comics that won out.

I did start to lose my drive with comics a little over time though and then I watched an animated film called Belleville Rendezvous. I loved it and was so blown away that I decided I wanted to try and get involved in animation in some way even if it wasn’t as an animator. I did some enjoyable design work for an animation company called Slinky Pics which included designing a large silly city destroying stop frame animated monster for an advert. I loved it.

Then I applied for a job at Ragdoll Productions. Ragdoll was the company that created the TellyTubbies and In the Night Garden amongst many other classic shows including the fantastic Pob!

I was chuffed to get the job and before long found myself co-creating and writing 50 episodes of a 2D animated show called Dipdap which was shown on the BBC’s CBeebies. I really learned on the job and thoroughly enjoyed working with a small team of very talented animators. Dipdap went on to win a Childrens BAFTA award . During my time at Ragdoll I was also part of the writing team and a storyboard artist on the series The Adventures of Abney and Teal which was created by Joel Stewart. I was also Lead Creative and writer on Twirlywoos. This series was a mixture of live action and stop framed animated and there were 100 episodes. To be involved in a stop frame show was a dream come true as I had always loved the technique going back to Bagpuss, The Clangers, and Morph. I collaborated with Joel Stewart again on the 2D animated series B.O.T. and the Beasties which was a great show to work on. When BOT and the Beasties came to an end I was back in the world of illustration.

A rather successful (to say the least) career outside comics indeed! I think you’re the only art droid to have ever won a Bafta! Tharg must be very proud!

Steve Roberts’ roughs for Scooter & Jinx page 1

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Now, the obvious question really is what brought you back in? I think your first returning work was that cover and the Future Shock strip in Prog 2246? Had you simply had enough of the fame and fortune afforded you in film and TV?

SR: I had never lost my interest in comics and I hoped that the years of storyboarding for TV may have helped me develop my skills further. When I saw the 2000 AD had started its own all ages version of the comic I had to get in touch to see if there was the possibility of getting involved.

And are you firmly settled back into comics now? Was it a weird thing to come back to them or have you always kept your hand in?

SR: I was a bit nervous drawing comics for 2000 AD again after such a long break but my confidence built as I went along. It felt like I slotted back into drawing comics again in a relatively stress free-way which was a relief – there wasn’t too much overthinking! – and I really enjoyed it.

And the Roberts roughs for Scooter & Jinx page 2

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James, this is your first visit to the world of Regened – any particular changes in the writing style for a new all-ages appeal strip?

JP: Yes, it’s my first Regened issue, but I’ve written a lot of all-ages stuff in the past. I did quite a lot of Marvel Heroes strips for Panini about 10 years ago, while I also wrote several issues of The Batman Strikes and Justice League Unlimited for DC around the same time. It’s been a while, but I like writing for that all-ages audience as the storytelling has to be very pure and direct. I’d say a bigger change is that you’re doing a 10 page, done-in-one story. That’s an odd length for 2000 AD, so you have to adjust to that.

With both Regened and the new Monster Fun series in 2022, we’re seeing Rebellion and 2000 AD going after the all-ages and kids readership like never before – what were your own experiences of getting into comics as readers?

JP: My experience of getting into comics as a kid was through re-runs of the Batman TV show in the late 70s. Because I loved that show my godmother bought me a collection of Batman strips from the 1930s to the 1970s as a Xmas present one year. Those reprints were the first comics I can remember reading. I must’ve been about 3 and a half, I guess?!? Those were great and I loved them, but the first comics I read regularly were British comics. I remember Speed issue 1 being the first comic I ever bought as it was advertised on TV. And then when it merged with Tiger I became a Tiger reader. Which meant I also started becoming aware of Roy of the Rovers, Eagle, Buster, Battle, and Scream!. I bought all of those throughout my primary school years, but then around 10 years old I started getting the Marvel UK titles such as Transformers, Action Force, Secret Wars, and Spider-Man & Zoids. I only started reading 2000 AD when I got into American comics when I went to secondary school around 1987/88. The point of this longwinded answer being: there was a conveyor belt of comics for you to ‘age up’ with. When you look back it really was a very special time to be a comics reading kid!

And how do you see the future of comics – do you think that the industry is moving into a good place for that future as far as engaging with younger readers?

SR: I think a version of the comic that can be enjoyed by younger readers is a brilliant idea. It’s also really pleasing to see Monster Fun on the shelves too. I got the issue that was released the other week and was laughing out loud! There seem to be a lot more comics for kids around these days and the quality is very high which is very heartening indeed.

JP: Well, I think the fact that more and more publishers are finally trying to engage that audience is a good thing. I do think there is a market/audience out there that isn’t just a graphic novel audience, but you need to be savvy with your content and format to make it work for you. But I think Rebellion’s moves into this area with the Regened issues and now Monster Fun are very exciting.

With more Regened and the new Monster Fun coming up in 2022 – what characters and strips would you love to play a part in bringing into either comic and delighting the kids with?

JP: I’ve just written a Cadet Dredd story for one of the 2022 Regened progs, which I loved doing. I’d love to have another crack at Dredd in the future. Maybe Strontium Dog? I’d love to write a Portrait of a Mutant era Johnny Alpha story.  As for Monster Fun: well, who doesn’t love Faceache!

And finally – Steve Roberts’ roughs for Scooter & Jinx page 3

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Finally, what’s coming up for both of you?

SR: In the future I plan to do more comics and I would like to illustrate children picture books too and possibly exhibit the non-illustrative drawings that I make when I get time. I’m also keen to continue working in TV and animation.

I’m currently working on an all ages comic with my friend Joel Stewart .Our collaboration with on Abney and Teal and B.O.T. and the Beasties was really enjoyable and we’ve spent a lot of time talking about comics over the years so we’ve decided to make one together. I can’t go into too many details at the mo but I’m really enjoying working on it.

JP: Apart from that Cadet Dredd, I have the final books of both Skip Tracer and Diamond Dogs coming to both 2000 AD and the Megazine in 2022.  Hopefully more Scooter & Jinx too!

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Thanks so much to both James and Steve for talking to us about Scooter & Jinx!

Make sure you catch up with their adventures in 2000 AD Regened Prog 2256 – out on 3 November from everywhere comics are sold, including the 2000 AD web shop!

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Interview: The Practically Perfect In Every Way Roger Langridge talks Pandora Perfect & Mystery Moon.

It’s jumping-on Prog time for 2000 AD, as the new Prog 2250 sees the debut of five new series, along with a couple of very special, very thrill-powered one-off tales. And one of these new series is another of those wonderful all-ages Regened strips making the jump from Regened to a full 2000 AD series – with Roger Langridge and Brett Parson’s Pandora Perfect starring in the new series, Mystery Moon.

First seen in 2000 AD Regened Prog 2196, with a second appearance in Prog 2233, Pandora Perez is Pandora Perfect… burglar, safe-cracker, armed bandit, all-round career criminal, and someone who just happens to look like some famous nanny you might have heard of… Mary something?

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Now, with a new, full-length series, Mystery Moon, Pandora and loyal robot assistant Gort are out of jail and up to their usual tricks, heading off to the Moonsausage Factory and a meet-up with an old friend (of sorts) before heading off on another adventure, full of criminal capers as she heads off in search of a dazzling jewel to pilfer!

The debut of Pandora Perfect – from 2000 AD Regened Prog 2196

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Roger, we’ve previously chatted about Pandora Perfect for her debut in 2000 AD Prog 2196, and she made a second appearance in Prog 2233. You described the strip this way – ‘Pandora Perfect is pretty much what you guessed – a sort of Mary Poppins Gone Wrong, a con-artist with a bag of tricks.’ And you also described how it was an idea you had of bringing something Harvey Kurtzman-esque to the pages of Regened, subverting ideas and creating something very much in the ethos of 2000 AD, but with that all-ages twist.

And now it’s time for Pandora to make the perfect jump to a full series, as the most practically perfect in every way lead gets a full series in Mystery Moon. So, what can we expect?

ROGER LANGRIDGE: More of the same, to some extent – Pandora and Gort get into a pickle while pursuing their nefarious lifestyle and have to get out of it. We get to meet an old associate of Pandora’s who’s gone legit (though, as it turns out, not as legit as all that), there’s a bit of light jewel robbery, and we find out where sausages really come from. With the extra pages we’re able to explore the relationship between Pandora and Gort a little more deeply, which gives the strip a bit of heart it might have been lacking up until now. And, of course, Brett Parson gets more room to shine, which can only be a good thing.

How many episodes will there be in Mystery Moon?

RL: It’s a six-parter. We get to do some good old-fashioned 2000 AD cliffhangers, hooray!

With something like Pandora Perfect, something that’s very much a gag-based strip, what sort of change in the writing is there with the change from the done-in-one Regened episodes to the multi-parter of Mystery Moon?

RL: As I mentioned, there’s a bit of room to flesh out Pandora and Gort’s friendship. And we can build up to things a bit more rather than having to get in and get out of a story quickly, so the pacing is a bit less frenetic. That said, I hope it’s still funny; I went for more humorous/bizarre scenarios and concepts rather than pure gags for this one, but humour is part of the flavour of the strip, so it really has to be there. (Brett’s style helps enormously in this regard – he really knows how to sell a funny idea.)

Does the switch to a full series mean a move away from the gag-heavy style to something more narrative based?

RL: There’s a more complex plot in Mystery Moon, certainly – a benefit of having the luxury of space to do that. And the stakes are a bit higher. A longer story seems to require a shift of gears.

Again, we’re getting to see more of Brett Parson on art for Pandora Perfect. No question here… just feel free to lavish effusive praise on the art!

RL: I’ve been a fan of Brett’s work since I first saw it – probably in Tank Girl, although I’ve seen some earlier work since then. His style is naturally funny and appealing, his storytelling is terrific, and it’s all got this wonderful kinetic feel to it – his energetic line and off-kilter compositions drag you through the page. Really couldn’t be happier about working with him.

Now, with something like Pandora, we’re playing up to the comedy stylings, something that doesn’t necessarily feature that often in 2000 AD. You’re also part of the triumvirate (now) of strips that have moved from Regened to 2000 AD proper, from one-offs to a full series, following Full Tilt Boogie and Department K.

What are your thoughts on how broad the scope of work in 2000 AD can and should be?

RL: Honestly, I think the variety of styles, approaches and tones is 2000 AD‘s secret sauce, the reason for its success and longevity. With most comics you’re getting a single course; 2000 AD gives you a full meal. I think it would be a lesser magazine if all the strips were trying to hit the same notes. There’s enough cohesion running through the variety that I think it still holds together as an anthology – most of the stories share the common ancestry of either being made by people who grew up on 2000 AD or who were actually there at the beginning, so that sort of makes it all gel together. But yeah, fully on board with having as much variety as possible.

And of course, it all comes together under that fabulous Mike McMahon cover!

RL: The thing about McMahon, the reason he’s the artist all the other artists admire so much, is that he’s so fearless about trying new things. It’s what makes him the artist he is. He’s utterly unafraid to push himself to try new things and experiment, and if you take that away you’re not getting the full McMahon experience. I think a single, stand-alone image is exactly the right place to push things stylistically. If it doesn’t 100% work, it’s cost you very little, compared to drawing a full story. (As it happens, I think that cover does 100% work. I think he achieved everything he set out to do with that one.)

And that’s it, thank you to the wonderful Roger Langridge for chatting about Pandora Perfect with us. You can follow along with her fabulous (and felonious) adventuring when Pandora Perfect: Mystery Moon begins in 2000 AD Prog 2250, coming to you from 22 September, wherever Thrill-Power is sold, newsagents, comic shops, and the 2000 AD web shop! Just look for the stunning Mike McMahon cover!

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Interview: Ian Edginton & D’Israeli are at the Storm Front! Next stop – Jupiter!

Part of the excitement with 2000 AD Prog 2250, the next jumping-on Prog that Tharg is sending your way, is the return of the long-running and quite brilliant Scarlet Traces series from Ian Edginton and D’Israeli, which launches into the new series, Storm Front.

If you don’t know – and seriously, you’re missing out – Scarlet Traces is all about taking the ideas of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds and spinning out a vast, enthralling steampunk sci-fi epic that all began ten years after the abortive Martian invasion of Earth, with Britain truly ruling the world with reverse-engineered alien technology.

As the series have moved on, time has passed and Britain’s foremost position as a world power has gone, as it finds itself outpaced by its rivals and struggling to cope with the millions of Venusian refugees fleeing the Martian invasion of their planet.

At the conclusion of the last series, Scarlet Traces: Home Front, in Prog 2138, we were deep into the amazing tale, following the Royal Air Force’s Ahron Shakespeare, first-generation Earth-born Venusian, and the flamboyant human/Martian hybrid, Iykarus, as they get ready to go to war…

The finale to Scarlet Traces: Home Front – from 2000 AD Prog 2138

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We’ve got a fascinating interview with Ian Edginton and D’Israeli (Matt Brooker) for you, with the first part all about Ian and Matt chatting about Scarlet Traces: Storm Front and what to expect, and then we have a real treat for you, as D’Israeli took the time and trouble to send over the process images for the stunningly psychedelic double-page spread that’s the highlight of Storm Front part one!

So, with Scarlet Traces: Storm Front, where will the Edginton & D’Israeli team take us? What terrors await? Well, the best people to talk to about that would be the ever-wonderful Ian Edginton and D’Israeli, d’emon draughtsman themselves!

One thing’s for sure though, if you’re expecting to see war erupt from the very first page, given that ending to Home Front, Edginton and D’Israeli have other, far more fascinating plans. Here’s how Storm Front opens up…

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We’re deep into the storyline of Scarlet Traces here with Storm Front, so I suppose the first thing to do is get you to give us some kind of story so far and where you’re going with Storm Front?

IAN EDGINTON: In the previous series we witnessed the overthrow of the Martians’ occupation of Venus and a spanner thrown in the works of their plan to disassemble the solar system and build a Dyson sphere-style habitat around the Sun. They’re now looking to take out their revenge on the Earth once more.

Meanwhile our heroes Ahron and Iykarus have recruited the reclusive Jovians (inhabitants of Jupiter) to help the Earth in her hour of need. It’s also been revealed that the Martians have reached a genetic dead-end, their numbers have dwindled drastically, this is the last stand for them as well. Phew!

How many episodes do we have to look forward to with this one?

IE: It’s a snug twelve-parter.

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You’ve certainly come an awful long way with Scarlet Traces – although it’s been a long and winding road to get here! Does it feel like 2000 AD is rather a natural home for the series now?

IE: Very much so. Matt (D’israeli) and I have been able to tell the story we want at our own pace rather than if it had been an American-style series or mini-series, if anything, it’s analogous to a television series versus a movie.

As well as the primary storyline, we’ve been able to take time to give secondary and even tertiary characters a chance to shine. They’re not just ‘walk-on’ parts, they have an inner life and add a richness and context to the story than if you just focused on the heroes all the time.

There’s certainly a huge mythology to Scarlet Traces, going way beyond the ideas of the steampunky original that took Wells’ ideas of the Martian invasion and expanded on them in the very first Scarlet Traces. You’ve gone from a relatively small-scale, pretty self-contained murder mystery with a twist in Scarlet Traces, all the way through to the current series, which certainly appears, after seeing the first episode, to be taking things all the way to Jupiter.

But one thing all the way through Scarlet Traces has been the incredible world‑building going on – you took the basis from Wells’ original and have just built and built on it all – the pair of you. Although, no doubt, Matt’s been the one doing all the donkey work on it?

IE: Matt and I will do a lot of groundwork before I put pen to paper. I’ll outline the broad concepts, where the story’s going, how I’d like to get there, some set pieces that I’d like to include and Matt will come back with his ideas and in-fill the details on some of my broad strokes.

I’ll also send Matt links with photo reference for the look of ships, characters, environments etc. They’re more to give him an idea of the look or capture a mood rather than anything specific. They’re a starting point which he’ll then take and run with in his own inimitable fashion. Occasionally I’ll ask for specific things, such as in the last series we had a bomb hidden in an old Co-Op van which I’d remembered seeing as kid. It was just a whim but I’ve since had several people get in touch saying, ‘I remember those!’

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Matt – how is Ian to work with on this? Lots of vague, ‘And here I want the sky full of Jovian warships, all completely unique and looking like nothing we’ve ever seen before,’ sort of instructions?

D’ISRAELI: Actually, no – Ian will talk over the broad concepts with me and we’ll set parameters – so he sets the framework, which is the bit I’d find really difficult, and I fill in the details, which is much more my kind of thing.

Ian’s really pretty specific – his scripts come littered with hyperlinks to photo reference! So he’ll often specify a particular real-life car or plane or building as a starting point that I can build on. If I remember rightly, the instructions for the Jovian warships was “organic-looking, a cross between a giant jellyfish and a squid,” which is a great starting point, plenty to work with but not so specific as to stifle creativity.

Digression: to quickly give me the look of a new character, Ian will often refer to a specific actor or celebrity, confident that my likenesses are so lousy that we’ll never have image rights issues 🙂 

IE: We’ve been working together for so long that we’re like an old married couple or like an old showbiz double act! We’re the Morecambe and Wise of comics! Thinking about it, I think next year marks the 20th anniversary of us working on Scarlet Traces together!

D’ISRAELI: Yes, and we’ve been working together for nearly 30 years now, so it’s kind of grown up organically. Definitely like an old married couple at this point.

20 years & 30 years! We shall be arranging street parties and a big cake!

Has it been something that’s been intricately planned between the pair of you or has it all evolved rather more organically?

IE: A little from column A, and little from column B!

Finally, when it comes to Scarlet Traces, do you have a definite plan for the course of the storyline, the beginning, middle, end all mapped out, or is it slightly less fixed than that? And where are we right now in the grand scheme of the tale?

IE: This story will pretty much draw to a close the one that began way back in the first-ever series, however because we’ve established such an expansive universe, there are more stories to tell (they’re already in the works in fact) so we’re not done yet!

And with that, Mr Ian Edginton left the building, muttering something about the fact that in 30 years of this artistic marriage, he’s never once had flowers from his artist.

Which left D’Israeli and me to chat over the styles and processes involved in this latest series of Scarlet Traces, and just how much fun it was to get to go all psychedelic on us in episode one, a bit like this…

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Matt, as far as the art on this first episode of Storm Front – there’s a huge mix of styles going on in here, with a spectacular bit of Yellow Submarine-esque psychedelia going on. Was that as much fun as it looked?

D’ISRAELI: Hell, yes. The pages leading up to that were also really fun – starting out in the Cold War painted style and then slowly flattening out the colour as we get more into the psychedelic stuff. I re-watcheded Yellow Submarine and was really taken by the use of photographic backgrounds in the Eleanor Rigby sequence, so I went into Nottingham with my camera and hunted out some suitable architecture. Luckily we still have a few good Victorian buildings left! Also I got to write off a DVD of Yellow Submarine as a business expense. I love my job.

Storm Front refers back to stuff from the Cold War stories, so I’ve been trying to match the art styles in those scenes. Look out for a page that looks like it’s drawn in pencil on coloured paper!

Now, with all the different styles in use, is there a different process with each?

D’ISRAELI: Not as much as you might expect. To explain, I’ve worked digitally for… hellfire, it’ll be 25 years next May. I work on a big Wacom Cintiq drawing tablet/display and everything’s drawn and coloured in Clip Studio Paint (née Manga Studio). My process is akin to working on paper – rough layout, rough pencils, pencils, inks, colour, except all done virtually. That process stays pretty much the same for everything I do, except the collage process on Stickleback.

There are two main ways I vary the look of the pages; one is to change the drawing – so using that distinctive early-70’s John Burns/Gerry Haylock coloured block shadows style, I end up leaving big chunks of shadow blank when I’m inking, whereas with the Cold War painted style I was drawing in everything and painting shadows over the top afterwards. The other way is to change the level of modelling I add when I’m doing the colouring; so with Cold War I was doing this highly-rendered 3D-looking “painted” colouring, whereas Home Front/Storm Front benefits from a cleaner look.

Again, if you look at part 1 of Storm Front, you can see the effect of just progressively simplifying the colour over the first three pages; I was pulling a couple of little drawing tricks, like exaggerating the perspective as things get stranger, but most of the progression into the psychedelic sequence comes just from leaving out modelling in the colouring.

And Matt has sent over the process images for the stunning psychedelic double-pager that dominates this first episode, a true feast fro the eyes from first idea to finished image…

D’ISRAELI: All stages completed in Clip Studio Paint, with this first rough being where I block out the composition and make sure all the main elements are included.

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D’ISRAELI: Stage 2 -Rough Pencils – establishing correct scale and proportions of all the elements. I’m trying to make sure I’ve got the “backbone” of the drawing set up right – do that and the rest of the drawing falls into place. I also add reference elements at this stage – here I’ve dropped in the photos that will make up part of the background, though I’m not masking them properly yet. (At this stage, I sent a copy of the spread to Tharg-in-Residence Matt Smith and Ian, partly to make sure I hadn’t missed anything out, and partly because I was so far out of my stylistic comfort zone and wanted reassurance!)

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D’ISRAELI: Stage 3 – Pencils – I add detail to all the figures and important elements. I often don’t bother to pencil background elements – generally, no one notices if you add an extra window to a house in the background, but everyone will notice if you give a main character an extra eye!

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D’ISRAELI: Stage 4 – Inks – usually I use a flexible “pen” (that gives a wider line the more pressure you apply) for inking, but in this case, I wanted to imitate the fixed lines used in the animated movie Yellow Submarine, so I used three fixed widths of line to ink the spread, heavier lines for closer elements, lighter lines for more distant ones. Note that because I draw digitally, I can draw coloured outlines directly at the inking stage. If I were working on paper, I’d either have to do the coloured outlines on overlays, or draw it all in black on the main drawing and then cut out the outlines in Photoshop after scanning in.

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D’ISRAELI: Stage 5 – Colour – normally, there would be several steps to this, starting with adding flat colour with the paint bucket tool and then placing highlights and shadows on top with brushes. However, since I want a flat, animated-movie-style look, the first flat-colour pass was pretty much the whole job, except for adding a few subtle gradients here and there.

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And that’s where we left it, with Matt heading after Ian, leaving the building, saying something about having to pick up some flowers.

Thank you to both Ian and Matt for all the details on the new series of Scarlet Traces, Storm Front. You can catch it, along with another four continuing stories and two very special one-off strips, in 2000 AD Prog 2250 – available on 22 September from wherever thrill-power is sold, including the 2000 AD web shop – just look for the stunning cover of Judge Dredd by the legend that is Mike McMahon!

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Interview: Doing it ‘The Hard Way’ with Rob Williams, Arthur Wyatt, & Jake Lynch…

2000 AD Prog 2250 is the latest of our thrill-powered jumping on Progs, out on 22 September, 48-pages with five brand-new series and two one-offs – There’s new supernatural chills with The Diaboliks, the latest incredible sci-fi in the Scarlet Traces saga, the second stunning series of The Out, and the first full series for Regened favourite Pandora Perfect! As for those one-offences, we have Judge Anderson following up the events of the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special, and Chris Weston giving us a three-page Future Shock. And all that comes with one of the covers of the year, as we welcome back the legend that is Mick McMahon, with an iconic, can only be a McMahon Judge Dredd.

But of course, the whole thing kicks off with everyone’s favourite future lawman, and a bold new story for Judge Dredd by Rob Williams, Arthur Wyatt, and Jake LynchThe Hard Way!

We got chatting with Rob, Arthur, and Jake to find out just how bad things are going to get for Dredd and Accounts Judge Maitland when Judge Dredd: The Hard Way kicks off in 2000 AD Prog 2250!

Rob, Arthur, Jake… The Hard Way sees two storylines potentially coming together, bringing back both Accounts Judge Maitland, memorably seen putting forth a radical solution to all crime in MC-1 in Carry The Nine (2000 AD Progs 2200-2203), and La Reine Rouge, Euro-Cit crime syndicate boss, as recently seen in The Red Queen’s Gambit (Judge Dredd Megazine issues 409-412)

Now, beginning in 2000 AD Prog 2250, the new jumping-on Prog, we have The Hard Way, with the Red Queen gunning for Maitland.

In the Nerve Centre for Prog 2250, all we get for this is ‘Recently, Dredd and Accounts Judge Maitland have been targeting Euro crime-boss La Reine Rouge.’

And it all begins like this…

So, Arthur, Rob, Jake… what’s it all about and what can we expect from this one – more Maitland solving all of MC-1’s problems or will it be more a case of simply trying to stay alive?

ARTHUR WYATT: It’s been a while since Maitland and Dredd talked about MC-1’s problems on the roof of Sector House 34. For Maitland, it’s been nothing but frustration, roadblock after roadblock, so she’s been working a little harder on her hobby of data‑mining Euro-criminals and snitching on them to the relevant authorities. For Dredd… he’s been being Dredd, but he’s always going to come back to that loose end – and Maitland being in Atlantis for trade discussions seems like a nice quiet moment for it.

Of course, for the extremely deadly and highly trained killers sent by the Euro-criminal pissed off at being data‑mined it seems like a convenient quiet moment to catch up with Maitland too, in the violently murder sense of the words “catch up”, only they don’t know Judge Dredd is there.  

MC-1’s problems might not get solved in this one, but they’re not going away on their own either, and events may change the state of play entirely.

ROB WILLIAMS: The Hard Way is basically The Red Queen having had enough of Maitland going after her crime empire, so she hires a ‘fixer’ to go big on the assassination front, by hiring a team of the best mercenary killers around. It’s sort of a reverse Dirty Dozen, inasmuch as we’re introducing a bunch of brand new bad guys who are all coming to kill poor accounts Judge Maitland. The only flaw in their plan is that the attack comes just as Judge Dredd is coming to speak to Maitland to discuss the promise Dredd made her at the end of Carry The Nine. And Dredd being there means that the hired killers ‘have to do this the hard way.’ Hence our title.

JL: More of the latter, more trying to stay alive, with the problems ramping up with each episode. It’s been an absolute joy to do, it’s the sort of story my ten‑year‑old self would have flipped over. That’s not to detract from it whatsoever. Great characters in ridiculously tough situations with the only option being – ahem – the hard way. (I really get to throw Dredd around like a Rag-Doll in this one!)

All that and maybe, just maybe, some more to come!

The call-back to Carry The Nine with Dredd & Maitland in The Hard Way.

How many episodes are we looking at for this one?

AW: Six parts. There’s a couple of Megazine stories that should follow on pretty closely to it as well. 

RW: Six episodes of old-school 2000AD action. I can sort of see this one being drawn by Steve Dillon back in the day, if that means anything. It feels like the type of Dredd tale Steve would do, to me at least.

JL: Yep, six episodes with an extra page thrown in. Tharg must have been livid – ‘Explain yourselves, script droids!?’

It’s always fascinating to see this sort of thing taking place, the bringing together of a couple of storylines like this – was it always a plan, or did things just come together naturally after you wrote together on Carry The Nine?

RW: Arthur and I had a few Twitter DMs back and forth about what we could do next following the tease we left at the end of Carry The Nine – how Maitland wanted to ‘defund the police’ effectively – put more Mega-City One funding into education rather than policing because, essentially, in the current system, the Judges are fighting an endless war against crime they can never win. Arthur has established The Red Queen storyline and her feud against Maitland, so bringing the two stories together this way seemed a fun idea.

AW: Oddly when we were first talking about what became Carry the Nine, this story is very similar to the kind of thing we were thinking about, then Rob suggested a story following on from End of Days and it evolved in the direction it did. So not quite a plan, but coming back to that original story feels very natural, and richer than it would have been now it’s had those elements introduced.

Trouble for Maitland – Assassins doing it The Hard Way!

Yes, you’ve both obviously got a fondness for Accounts Judge Maitland, and Arthur and Jake have been developing the Red Queen storyline for a while now, with the seeds of it planted in Krong Island (Megazine 392-395) and then teased in The Red Prince Diaries (Megazine 404) – so bringing those two strands together here seems perfect. 

But after The Hard Way, will it be a case of you all developing things further?

RW: Arthur’s already doing more with this storyline. I have something I might do coming off this one. And we’ve talked about a follow-up at some point. There are long term plans, put it that way.

JL: I really hope so. Art came up with the Red Queen very early on, back when I started. I think she’s a great character and a proper monster and I would love to do more.

AW: By the end of this story i think we will have poked some tigers that won’t easily become unpoked, and what happens as a result is really a question that deserves an answer. The Megazine stories I mentioned should wrap up some of the Red Prince plot strands, but there’s going to be an awful lot left for me and Rob to explore. 

Ooooh – poking tigers that won’t become unpoked! That promises plenty for the future!

Just one of the motley crew of assassins gunning for Maitland
According to his Twitter – it’s Rob Williams’ ‘new favourite Sentientoid’

Now, Rob & Arthur – just how does the writing collaboration work here? 

AW: Usually from enthusiastic chat to batting an outline back and forth (and getting that all‑important Tharg approval) to splitting it up into episodes. When the actual script is being written we tend to alternate who does the first draft of an episode and who does an editing pass – this is pretty much how I worked with Alex De Campi on the movie Dredd scripts as well, so it seems pretty robust as a method. Episode one was a bit different as we had a lot of character introductions and we split the panels for those up pretty evenly.  

RW: We fight. Sometimes with gloves, other times with serrated blades, until one bleeds too heavily, then the victor is decided.

Or we sort of break the plot via chatting back and fore, and then we split the scripts up 50/50 for a first draft, and the other gets to come in and do an edit. That’s pretty much how all my co-writing projects works, really.

It’s good to have a second voice sometimes. There’s one beat in The Hard Way where I wrote Dredd solving a problem one way. Arthur replied saying he didn’t buy it, so I went back, scratched head, came up with another solution to the problem, and that solution is probably my favourite moment in the whole story now. And that wouldn’t exist were it not for having a second writer pushing you to up your game a bit.

I think Arthur writes good Dredd and he knows his onions, both in terms of writing structure and Dredd’s world and the voice of the strip. I mean, Arthur’s clearly a long-term Dredd reader, so he keeps his stories grounded in the canon. We’ve co-written two Dredd stories now and I’ve really enjoyed both experiences. It’s been really healthily collaborative. No one throwing toys out of pram or flipping tables. Pushing each other to make it better – that’s exactly how co-writing should work.

Right then, so it’s all lovely and happy from Arthur’s point of view… but which one of Rob’s takes do we believe? The fighting with gloves and blades or the chatting and niceties? Hmmm, reader… we’ll leave it up to you!

Some of Jake Lynch’s art from future episodes of The Hard Way

Obviously, Arthur’s had history with Jake before now, and I think it’s obvious that he’s a major talent, establishing himself over the last however many years as one of the new breed of artists, ready and able to continue the long history of excellence we’ve had on Dredd.

So, from a writer’s perspective – how good is he and what do you both think of what he brings to the story?

JL: (*acts nonchalantly but secretively attentive and worried*)

RW: Jake? Well, it’s the first time I’ve worked with him and it was great. I think you can see bits of Henry Flint, a hint of Jock, the odd McMahon, and a Cam Kennedy influence on the page. He draws a very good Dredd. Jake feels like a contender in the next generation of great Dredd artists stakes. And like I said above, The Hard Way feels like the type of Dredd tale that Steve Dillon would’ve drawn back in the day. A sort of Cry of The Werewolf or Wreckers vibe to it, and Jake fitted with that.

Roughs and inks – more great Jake Lynch art from future episodes of The Hard Way

And Jake – you having lots of fun here? With the cast of colourful characters on display, there’s certainly plenty of scope to go wild visually!

JL: It’s been a blast. Right from the start, I’ve loved working on Arthur’s scripts, and to combine that with working with Rob, someone I’ve admired for many years, has been a bit of an ambition and treat.  They inspire imagination and I hope that we can do some more soon!

More Jake Lynch Dredd from The Hard Way – look at the McMahon boots!

Jake, we always seem to mention Mick McMahon when I talk to you, as there’s so much that’s great in your work, the angularity, the perspective, the boots! And there’s so much of the great McMahon stylings in there. And of course, this Prog, you get to introduce The Hard Way underneath the return of the great man (and the Mk I Lawgiver) to the cover of 2000 AD. 

JL: I think I always reply to that with, that’s an amazing compliment for me, maybe less so for Mr. McMahon!  I’m still very much developing, and he perfectly embodies how that should always stay the case.

The guy’s amazing and always brings an arresting image and this one is no exception. I grew up on his work and he is still schooling us all!  I’m proud as hell to have a strip the other side of this cover and can’t wait to get my grubby little paws on it.

And yeah, The Mk II Lawgiver is sort of brutal, but the Mk I is a classic.  It has a Luger sensibility which perfectly matches with Dredd.

RW: Mick’s a genius, simple as that. I think his art on The Vampire Effect from the ’82 Annual may well be the definitive Judge Dredd art.

Speaking of which… Magnificent McMahon art from The Vampire Effect

RW: And nearly 40 years on we get the cover he’s just provided for Prog 2250. You look at every choice he’s made on that cover and it’s sort of the opposite of boring. It feels like the energy, the angles, the body position, the enhanced aspects, they’re all prodding your brain. Thrill power, pure and undiluted!

AW: Oh yes, I’m a BIG fan of McMahon sneaking the Mk I Lawgiver onto the cover – it’s a classic for a reason.

Oh yes, the wonder that is a Mick McMahon cover… and here’s just a little bit of the delights you’ll get to see when he shows us the making of said cover in the Covers Uncovered feature!

Thank you to Rob, Arthur, and Jake for taking the time to chat – you can catch part one of Judge Dredd: The Hard Way in 2000 AD Prog 2250 – out on 22 September from all good newsagents and comic book stores, as well as the 2000 AD webshop and app.