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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.

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Interview: Michael Carroll brings back The Mayflies for 2000 AD Regened Prog 2246

It’s Regened time again Earthlets, as The Mighty One hands over the reins of the Galaxy’s Greatest to his lil’ nephew, Joko Jargo, to give readers, old and young, a different kind of 2000 AD experience, the wonders of the all-ages Regened Prog!

Inside 2000 AD Regened Prog 2246, there’s plenty to get your teeth into, including new Cadet Dredd by Liam Johnson and Duane Redhead, new Chopper from David Barnett and Nick Roche, a new Future Shock from Karl Stock and cover artist Steve Roberts, and a brand-new strip from the Survival Geeks team of Gordon Rennie, Emma Beeby, and Neil Googe called ‘Splorers. But you also get, you lucky lucky Earthlets, the second installment of the Ghafflebette Rogue Trooper universe series Mayflies from Michael Carroll and Simon Coleby, with colours from Dylan Teague and letters from Simon Bowland bringing us the The Way Forward

So, time to catch up with Mike to talk more of the Rogue Trooper universe and where Mayflies fits into it all… Simon was going to be joining us, but sends his apologies along with some of his artwork – Tharg has him chained to the drawing board getting the latest series of Jaegir ready for launch (happening in Prog 2247!)

Hi Mike, nice to chat again – hope you’re all nice and safe and all vaxxed up?

Michael Carroll: Yep, I’ve been fully vaccinated for two months now. No side effects or side effects, aside from the inability to spot when I’m repeating myself or saying the same thing again but in a different way!

Mayflies debuted in 2000 AD Regened Prog 2220, with Precious Cargo, and is due to get its second outing in Regened Prog 2246, with the new story The Way Forward.

That first story set out the bones of Mayflies, a group of Souther GI Troopers due to be thrust into service for the never-ending Nort-Souther war. But, thanks to a Nort infiltration mission, they’ve been released from their gestation pods too early – leaving us with a group of teen GI Troopers, all with specialist skills and training implanted in their brains.

At the end of that first episode, these Mayflies; Rose, Zuli, Wrecks, Artie, Otto, and Slink, had freed themselves from their gestation pods, grabbed a ship, and were heading out to… well, their future I suppose.

The final panels from the first Mayflies – from 2000 AD Prog 2220 – art by Simon Coleby, colours by Dylan Teague

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Okay then, Michael, where do you take the Mayflies in The Way Forward?

MC: This episode is set a few weeks after Precious Cargo. I initially toyed with the idea of opening the tale immediately after that story, with the Mayflies’ stolen shuttle under attack from the Norts, but while that might have made for an exciting adventure it didn’t really grab me, plus it didn’t give the characters much of a chance to stretch their limbs. We need to see them doing their own thing, interacting with other people, using their skills.

In the movie version we’ll have the room to actually show the escape scene – the shuttle dodging and zipping around the battle wreckage as the Nort fighters swarm after it – but here we only have ten pages to play with, so I decided instead to jump to the characters reaching their destination: in the opening panel we see that the shuttle has suffered a lot of damage so we can assume that the Norts did pursue them, but they managed to get away. Just barely, of course: escape should never be easy for the heroes!

Comparing the final pages to the Coleby b&w finished work
Mayflies 2 page 2 details by Simon Coleby – colours by Dylan Teague.

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Presumably, we’ll be exploring more of the characters and differences of the group?

MC: Yeah, there’s a little more of that. Again, because we only have ten pages, we can only get a hint of each character. Early on I thought it might be interesting to have someone other than Rose as the narrator this time, and maybe I could switch to a different one with each new episode. That would definitely help to give us some more insight into the characters. Unfortunately I just couldn’t make it work. Not for this particular adventure, anyway. It just feels right to have Rose tell the story… But I’m not ruling out the idea of switching narrators in the future.

Given both the gap in time between episodes and the nature of exploring a group within a short number of pages, are you constructing each episode as its own short tale and then connecting each through themes and the like?

MC: That’s it exactly. With such a long gap between episodes we have to reintroduce the scenario and each of the main characters, so that cuts off several avenues of possibility, story-wise. That’s not a complaint, though! In story-telling, restrictions force you to come up with ideas that you might not otherwise have thought of. Or you could see it like this: sometimes if you have the freedom to go anywhere and do anything, you end up going nowhere and doing nothing.

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We spoke last time about the potential for stories in the Rogue Trooper universe being huge, and that first story being, as Simon put it, ‘the first look at something.’

Now, I would assume that there’s always an eye to the possible future with Regened strips, so do you have a route mapped out for taking Mayflies into 2000 AD for a longer run, in the same way as we saw with both Full Tilt Boogie and Department K. Or is it something you would rather see continuing at its own pace in Regened?

MC: To my shame, I have to admit that I’ve not yet read Full Tilt Boogie or Department K.

Bad Mr Carroll, bad Mr Carroll!

MC: This is mostly because the Progs don’t arrive here in Dublin on any kind of regular basis. Used to be that they would arrive every Monday morning on the week of publication, but in the past few years they’ve been showing up weeks or even months late. So I’ve taken to just letting them build up into a hefty stack and then I blitz through them in one go.

But I do have an overall plan for Mayflies if it were to get a regular series or its own spin-off comic. I’d need to discuss it with Tharg and Simon, of course, to see where they’d like to take the story. Plus we’d need to renegotiate the contracts with the characters’ agents, and we have to bear in mind that they’re all clones so technically they’re children and as such can only work a limited number of hours per week.

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With the success of Jaegir and now Mayflies, I think it’s safe to say the future of the Rogue Trooper universe is something that’s got a lot of room for new and exciting stories. We touched on this last time, but what is it about Rogue’s universe that’s just so inviting to people?

MC: I think that one of the appealing aspects of the original Rogue Trooper was that it was a war story where no side was clearly “the goodies” or “the baddies.” Rogue has effectively deserted his own side and was following very much his own path – I reckon there’s a good clue in the name – so in that regard he was an antihero, and as such he fit perfectly into 2000 AD.

The epic opener to Mayflies 2 – pencils and inks from page 1 by Simon Coleby

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With Mayflies’ first episode, you didn’t shy away from the war story element of the tale. Obviously, it fitted into the all-ages nature of the Regened brief, but there was that sense of hitting a balance between the all-ages aspect of things and the truth of the war setting. I imagine that’s something you’re continuing to explore, although I can’t imagine we’re going to be seeing a Mayflies/Jaegir crossover at any point!

MC: That would be fun to explore, but no, there are no plans for that. Jaegir is so different in tone to Mayflies that any attempt to crossover just wouldn’t really work. By its nature Mayflies has something of a wide-eyed innocence to it whereas Jaegir has the opposite: a narrow-eyed scepticism. They’re two sides of the same coin, of course, but unless we’re talking about some weird kind of moebius coin, those sides are very unlikely to ever meet.

However, I would love to do a crossover with The V.C.s! Maybe it’s all the same war, just in different parts of the galaxy, and The Norts and the Geeks have been working together… they’ve sided with the Int. Stel. Fed. to gain control of the intergalactic trucking routes so they can cut off supplies to the Cetaceans as they prepare for their final assault on Tarantula.

Ooooh, now I didn’t see that coming! The V.C.s and Mayflies together!

Meeting the Mayflies cast – pencils and inks from page 4 by Simon Coleby

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With the Regened strips over the last couple of years, I think it’s fair to say that there’s been a settling down of things, artists and writers getting to grips with the all-ages aspect of it all and realising that there’s a huge amount that can be done in Regened that is 80-90% everything that can be done in any 2000 AD strip – just with slightly less obvious blood and mature themes. I think we’ve seen that with your Cadet Dredd strip, Mike, and certainly with Mayflies, Department K, and Full Tilt Boogie.

Obviously, we’d all love to see the all-ages Regened go monthly or (dream a dream) weekly, but given the current difficulties in publishing, it just doesn’t seem likely. But do you think there’s something to be said for Regened to have that positive influence, a transformative influence for the future on 2000 AD itself, mixing things up, letting creatives go in different directions and keep things fresh?

MC: Complacency is potentially dangerous in any entertainment medium because it’s a path to laziness and stagnation. So, yeah, you’ve gotta mix things up now and then. Try something new, shift the perspectives, maybe even revisit older, discarded approaches. That also applies to the creators: you can’t get stronger if you don’t flex your muscles.

We should never be afraid to try something new just because we’re comfortable and safe. We’ve got to at least test the boundaries of the comfort zone to see how rigid they are… and to be certain that those boundaries actually exist outside of our own fears and expectations.

That’s why Regened is a brilliant idea. 2000 AD will always need new blood with regard to its readers and its creators, and Regened gives us that. A standalone monthly Regened comic is very tempting, and it could really work given the right contents, but right now it’s fitting in very nicely with the regular progs.

I know that some die-hard readers argue that the Regened issues are “not the same” and they’re right about that. If they were the same, there wouldn’t be any point in doing them. As I said, you’ve got to flex if you want to get stronger, and I’ve no doubt that Regened has been an innovative and hugely important new aspect to the comic.

Mark my words: in decades to come, there will be highly successful and influential comics creators whose first-ever progs were Regened issues.

And finally, as always… what’s coming up next from you?

MC: Dreadnoughts book 2 is in progress, as is the third book of Proteus Vex, and I’ve got another Dredd two-parter on the way.

Mayflies: The Way Forward can be found inside the Thrill-Powered pages of 2000 AD Regened Prog 2246, out in comic shops, newsagents, and from the 2000 AD web shop from August 25!

Be sure to check out the interview with Mike and Simon about the debut of Mayflies back in Prog 2220!

Thank you so much to Mike for taking time out to answer the questions – we really appreciate it and hope you, dear reader, feel the same.

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Interview: Paul Starkey & James Newell – on 2000 AD Terror Tales and Thought Bubble wins

Every year, pandemic or no pandemic, 2000 AD and Thought Bubble put together a Thrill-powered contest with a stunning prize – the chance for the winner to see their work published as a strip in the Galaxy’s Greatest comic!

Back in November 2020, under Covid conditions, writer Paul Starkey and artist James Newell faced the panels of expert judges and came out triumphant.

Now, you’ve already seen James’ work for Tharg in this years’ 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special but we’ll finally get to see their work together in 2000 AD Prog 2245, out on 18 August with the Tharg’s Terror Tale; The Torturer’s Apprentice, a black and white tale of greed and consequences when you mess with forces beyond comprehension!

First of all, James and Paul, congratulations to you both on winning the 2000 AD talent search contests at the 2020 Thought Bubble Festival. It might have been a little bit different this year of course, but the prize remained the same – seeing your work in print in the pages of 2000 AD.

Your strip, the Tharg’s Terror Tale, The Torturer’s Apprentice, sees print from August 18 in the pages of 2000 AD Prog 2245. Have you had the chance to see your work in print yet?

PAUL STARKEY: No not as yet, unfortunately. I obviously did get to see James’ great artwork in the Sci-Fi Special and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with my story.

JAMES NEWELL: I haven’t seen the Terror Tale in print yet but I got my comp copies of the Sci-Fi Special and was thrilled with Jim Boswell’s colours & Simon Bowland’s letters and I felt really honored to draw the wrap up story with Maura McHugh & Mike Carroll scripting.

What does it mean to you to be there in the pages of 2000 AD?

JN: It’s been nearly a year now since Thought Bubble 2020 and I still can’t believe it’s really happening!

PS: It’s hard to put into words. As someone who’s been reading 2000 AD since the early 1980s (with a hiatus in the early 2000s) it just feels amazing to finally have written for a publication I’ve read and loved for so long, it’s huge, one of my greatest writing achievements.

Obviously, James, you’re a slight anomaly in the annals of 2000 AD & TB winners in that you’ve already seen your work published in 2000 AD before this, with the final strip in this years’ Sci-Fi Special. But it must still be rather special to see your name there in a regular Prog?

JN: Yes, it’s something special for me to be in the pages of 2000 AD, and a black and white strip at that! As a reader, I do love to see the one-off stories; you never know what you’re going to get, a new creative team or a 2000 AD veteran, and sometimes a tease of what might be a new series – it’s great to be a part of that.

Your Terror Tale‘s entitled The Torturer’s Apprentice – can you both give us your take on what it’s all about?

PS: Obviously I don’t want to give the twist away but I suppose it’s about how inventive and downright cruel the devil might be and about how people see what they want to see and make certain assumptions.

JN: A member of the police force sees an opportunity to line her own pockets, but inadvertently locks herself into a gruesome fate.

I was watching the pitches on YouTube and I felt Paul’s was the strongest and I could see it in my head from his description, not to mention the mood of his vid pitch; dim lighting, soft-spoken, perfect and creepy, it all set me up for the final look of the Terror Tale!

I’m sure Paul Starkey is going to be a 2000 AD staple!

James, we’ve already heard from you about the Thought Bubble contest this year when we interviewed you about the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special, but we want to hear from Paul as to the writer’s point of view.

So Paul, as far as the contest itself, was this your first time entering the contest?

PS: Well, I’d heard about the 2000 AD & Thought Bubble contest before obviously, but this was my first time entering. The fact it was virtual helped.

Yes, the virtual nature of the competition was the big change this year – down to Covid obviously – making it different from other years where it was more of a gladiatorial forum-style affair!

Whereas artists had the brief of drawing their own version of Chris Burnham’s Journey to the Edge of the World from 2000 AD 2184, which were then narrowed down to six by Tharg before the final winner was chosen by an all-star judging panel, writers had to send in a 2-minute video pitch. Tharg narrowed down the 150 entries to just 12, which were then judged by 2000 AD writers Rory McConville, himself a previous 2000 AD & TB script contest winner, Maura McHugh, and Ian Edginton.

So, how did you find the pitching and judging process this year? Was it an advantage that you were doing it all virtually, or did it just add to the pressure?

PS: I found it easier to talk to my phone than I might have found it talking to the panel in person! There was some pressure as I hadn’t realised the first video I did would be too big to send so I had to redo it at the last minute, but I’d practiced it so many times this wasn’t too hard thankfully.

Having gone through the process and come out the other side victorious, what advice would you give to those who may be reading this thinking about entering this year? (Hopefully, we’ll be back to doing things in person for Thought Bubble 2021!)

PS: I’ve lost count how many Future Shocks I’ve sent through to Tharg over the last 10+ years, but I never gave up hope and it just goes to show how important persistence is for writers and artists!

I’d say work on your pitch a lot, rewrite it and refine it until it’s the best it can be (though it can always be better, feedback from one of the panel members over my ending encouraged me to rework it and the new ending is definitely an improvement.) Proofreading is essential! It’s easy to miss things, even when you’ve been through it a few times. Beyond this, practice your pitch; it’s no good having a great idea if you stumble during the pitch itself. Knowing your pitch inside and out won’t mean you’re not nervous, but it’ll definitely help.

Now, a couple of old favourites to end with – when did you first come across the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic?

PS: The first Prog I remember buying, or having bought for me, was 219, July 1981. I was ten! I must have read some issues before because I was confused that Dredd wasn’t fighting Cal anymore, but I couldn’t point to specific previous issues. Prog 219 was when the love affair started though, I didn’t miss a Prog after that for many, many years.

JN: I was an Eagle comic reader and a friend loaned me Judge Dredd: Apocalypse War & Rogue Trooper and that was it, I had to catch them all… and I did. I’m one of that group of readers who knows just how much space every 2000 AD and Judge Dredd Megazine takes up!

And now that your 2000 AD journey has begun, what would you see as a dream character or strip to work on?

JN: I would love to draw Dredd and Anderson again, ABC Warriors would be a blast! Department K looks like lots of fun to draw, and Kano & Bad Company – since we’re dreaming here!

PS: Clichéd I know, but Dredd obviously. Other than him I’ve always been a huge fan of Rogue Trooper so that’d be next on my list, and I like some of the expanded universe stuff that’s been coming out in recent years, especially Jaegir, and though it’s quite dated and could never work nowadays, I loved the original Mean Arena!

When it comes to your own work, where do your influences come from?

PS: In comics terms I’m going to be very obvious, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, John Wagner and Grant Morrison, but more recently Dan Abnett and Rob Williams. Too many to list really.

JN: Oh, all the 2000 AD greats, McMahon, Bisley, Hicklenton, Kennedy, Hairsine and many, many more! I’m spoilt for choice!

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

JN: Working away on my own sci-fi comic strip Skeleton Crew which started out as a drawing exercise and slowly developed into A.I. robot vs human conflict story.

PS: I’ve written a Tales from the Black Museum story which I’m hoping will be in the Judge Dredd Megazine soon, the other big thing coming up is a story that’s hopefully being published by the US science fiction magazine Analog in the new year.

Well there you go – thanks to both Paul and James for speaking to us. Congratulations to both of them once more for their wins. You can see the final judging videos below and remember, there’s going to be another chance to win the 2000 AD & Thought Bubble script and art contest at this years’ Thought Bubble festival – more news in the coming months!

You can find Terror Tales: The Torturer’s Apprentice on the shelves of your local comic shop and newsagent, or digitally from the 2000 AD web shop from 18 August.

Okay, to end with, first a couple of great process images sent over by James – his blue pencil pages for page one and two of his Terror Tale, followed by the finished pages.

James Newell – blue pencil art from Terror Tales: The Torturer’s Apprentice – Page 1
James Newell – finished art from Terror Tales: The Torturer’s Apprentice – Page 1
James Newell – blue pencil art from Terror Tales: The Torturer’s Apprentice – Page 2
James Newell – finished art from Terror Tales: The Torturer’s Apprentice – Page 2

And finally, just to give you an idea of what Paul and James went through to get here… the judging videos from this years’ 2000 AD & Thought Bubble contest…

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Interview: James Newell brings the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special to its Apotheosis…

This year, the 2000 AD Sci-FI Special gives us a trip around the Dreddworld, with one big storyline threading it’s way through six stories featuring Judge Dredd, Judge Anderson, Cursed Earth Koburn, Chopper, Armitage, Devlin Waugh, and Judge Inaba!

After building it all up with adventures in the Cursed Earth, Mega-City One, Oz, Brit-Cit, and Hondo City, It’s all brought back to the wastes of the Cursed Earth in the final tale, Apotheosis, co-written by the architects of the big storyline, Michael Carroll and Maura McHugh. The art on Apotheosis is by brand-new art droid and winner of the 2020 2000 AD/Thought Bubble Talent Competition, James Newell.

So, for the last of these Sci-Fi Special interviews, it’s time to chat to James about getting his big break, the thrill of being published, and how to celebrate his debut…

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(Cover by Neil Roberts)

Hello James, how the devil are you? Living the dream? Vaxxed up and staying safe?

JAMES NEWELL: Very good, thanks for asking.

Your debut with 2000 AD comes in the final strip, Apotheosis, in the 2000 AD Sci-Fi SpecialI imagine that’s rather a special feeling?

JN: Correct, I’m over the moon actually, I’ve been a 2000 AD fan for many years now, the comic is the reason I draw and 2000 AD has always been my main inspiration.

James Newell’s debut art in the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special – bringing it all to an end with Apotheosis!

It’s also slightly unusual, seeing as you’re the winner of the 2000 AD & Thought Bubble art contest from 2020, and that usually means your first published 2000 AD strip is a Future Shock. We’ll still see your Future Shock, written by your fellow 2000 AD/TB winner, Paul Starkey, later on in 2021, but Apotheosis will be your first credit in the Prog.

TN: Yes, I did complete the art for Paul Starkey’s excellent winning pitch from the script contest, but it’s yet to be scheduled for publication, so I was quite surprised to get commissioned again so soon after and thrilled that it was a Dredd script!

How did you find the whole experience of putting together such an important chapter in a big event for 2000 AD?

TN: I really enjoyed it actually, and when I spotted Maura McHugh & Michael Carroll credited on the script I knew this was going to be a good mix of characters and action, so I found myself being swept along with the story. I wasn’t aware of the details of the other stories but Matt did give me some art, so I did not stray too far from the continuity the other artists had established on the project.

More of James Newell’s art from Apotheosis!

Have you seen a copy of the Sci-Fi Special yet? What’s it feel like to see your name in there?

TN: I haven’t seen the final lettered or coloured strip yet, and I’m looking forward to reading the entire special from cover to cover.

I’m still a paper comic guy and don’t read online so I will have to wait till it comes through the door.

A preview of the gift all of
James’ friends will be getting soon!

And of course, I’m going to photograph my credit card and send it to my friends that know just what that means!

Obviously, the accolade of winning the 2000 AD/TB contest is rather a big thing and has led to many a script and art droid getting regular work in both the Prog and the Judge Dredd Megazine – including three of previous winners right here in the Sci-Fi Special; you, Tom Foster, and Liam Johnson.

How important would you say winning the competition has been for you?

TN: Winning the 2000 AD/TB comp has been an incredible honor & massively encouraging to me in my work.

Did you already know about the 2000 AD talent search and what convinced you to enter?

TN: I’d been aware of it for a number of years and decided to enter finally in 2020. Because of Covid, the festival was all online and we could email in our submissions, so it allowed me to concentrate on the work and the deadline for submissions – there would never be a better time to get my work seen by 2000 AD professionals and get some good feedback on it.

This was your first time and you won – impressive indeed!

Who is she? That’s something you’ll need to buy the Special to find out!
More of James Newell’s art from Apotheosis!

As for the competition itself, for 2020 it was obviously a virtual event, with the brief to draw your own version of Chris Burnham’s Journey to the Edge of the World from 2000 AD 2184. The entries were narrowed down to a short-list of six that went before the expert panel of Matt “D’Israeli” Brooker, Chris Burnham, and John McCrea.

Can you tell us a little about the actual process of entering and the sheer mortifying fear of that final judging panel, virtual or not – especially as one of the panel was the man who’d written and drawn the strip you’d drawn?

TN: Once the script was up on the Thought Bubble website I had a read and thought, how am I to draw all this?

Then had a look at the final strip by Chris from the Prog and thought, how am I to follow this?

Then I calmed down and just made the best stab at my version working right up the the deadline and emailed it off.

I wasn’t aware that I was a finalist until I was watching it on Youtube and my name came up halfway in. After I came down from that initial shock I thought the critique of my work was really great and I was taking notes on what to look out for on my next drawing project.

After that, to hear I won was just out of this world!

A final panel from James Newell’s 2000 AD debut with Apotheosis!

What advice would you give to up-and-coming writers and artists about getting into comics in general, and the 2000 AD/Thought Bubble competition in particular?

TN: My advice to artists that want to do comics would be to collaborate, find a writer that also wants to do comics, but keep your projects short, Future Shock type short, and show your work to comic professionals whenever you can – but be sure to take on board what they say to improve.

The first page of James Newell’s winning 2000 AD/TB entry,
showing his interpretation of Chris Burnham’s Journey to the Edge of the World from 2000 AD 2184

For those new to you and your art, what work have you done already?

TN: I’ve worked on the 2000 AD fanzine Zarjaz over the years & recently I worked with Pat Mills on Spacewarp drawing the character Slayer.

Yes, Zarjaz, the 2000 AD fanzine. Through the years, this is another source of not only some really good strips featuring the characters of 2000 AD, but also proven to be another great training ground for writers and artists of the future.

Sadly, we recently lost the publisher of Zarjaz, Dave Evans (Bolt-01), an artist, letterer, editor, and publisher (who never stopped being a fan), and someone whose sterling work has helped so many creators over the years.

JN: Yes, I’ve worked with Dave over the years doing a number of strips for Zarjaz and it was very sad to hear of this death and condolences go out to his family. The fanzine was very important to me in my development as a comic artist, working with like-minded people on the characters we love. Dave provided an easy-going working environment which, having worked on my own fanzines in the past, I know is no easy task! He used to send out drawings with our Zarjaz orders of all the characters, it was a delightful bonus to get original art with the copies of Zarjaz and DogBreath.

He will be missed in the community.

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

JN: Currently I’m drawing up a promo image of the character Slayer for SpaceWarp and catching up on drawing my own Sci-Fi strip Skeleton Crew that is in the vein of the DC Thomson 80’s Starblazer, just for fun!

Thank you to James for talking to us – always so great to hear from all the new and upcoming talent! For more on James’ 2000 AD/TB art contest win, see here for the full judging video and all of the entries that made the final.

You can find the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special at your local newsagent, local comic shop, and, of course, at the 2000 AD web shop from 7 July.

For even more on the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special, you’ll be able to see more interviews over the coming week, including this one with Matt Smith, Michael Carroll, and Maura McHugh, the architects of the Special, plus we chat to Neil Roberts about putting together that great cover in this Covers Uncovered feature.

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Interview: Heading to Hondo City for the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special with Karl Stock & Neil Googe

With this year’s 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special, a global threat means a global response for all of Dreddworld in an epic adventure taking in The Cursed Earth, Mega-City One, Brit Cit, Oz, and Hondo City.

And handling the Hondo City leg of this summetime spectacular are Karl Stock and Neil Googe with Hondo City Justice: Daughters of Uranium, featuring Judge Inaba.

You can get hold of the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special anywhere Thrill-Power is sold from 7 July. But now, read on as we chat to Karl Stock and Neil Googe

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(Cover by Neil Roberts)

So, first things first I suppose… what’s it all about Karl?

KARL STOCK: I’d best be careful, because all of the stories are interlinked and one slip might set the spoiler dominoes in motion! But essentially, bad things with an environmental link are happening, and they have repercussions across Dredd’s world. Neil and I’s end of the story takes place in Hondo-City, as Inaba investigates a series of mass radiation poisonings.

Of course, it was all a little different from your usual scripting gig, with your tale feeding into the larger overarching storyline for the Special. What sort of instructions came down from on high from your three overlords here – Matt (Smith), Maura, and Mike?

KS: My only contact with Matt on this was when he very kindly asked if I wanted to do it, otherwise Mike and Maura are well-programmed surrogate editorial droids! They had the overarching story worked out, and a brief paragraph of vague suggested directions for David, Liam and I to go in with our own stories.

These were a good starting point, and there were certain beats to hit in order to line up with the overall story, but really we were encouraged to do our own thing as much as possible. All the script droids had an introductory chat on Zoom, and we shared our scripts with one another for feedback – mainly, in my case, with Mike.

Was there plenty of space in the brief to tell the story you wanted, whilst still contributing to the overall storyline?

KS: Only insofar as my original idea had about three episodes’ worth of plot in it, with all kinds of direct and indirect references to Japan’s difficult nuclear history, from Hiroshima to Fukushima, and additional scenes and characters. What happened was the kind of paring-down you normally do with redrafts anyway, but because of the unique situation Mike helped talk me through it – which was good because it hurried the process up, I got the benefit of his extensive experience, and he’s a good guy to spend time on a call with anyway.

What is it they say about good leadership (or editorship)… if you want someone to do a specific thing, make them feel like they had the idea to do it in the first place? Yeah, he’s good at that!

It strikes me that Hondo City (and Inaba et al) are all ripe for storylines and have been, thus far, rather underused in Dreddworld. Any thoughts on more storylines from this most mysterious of the Mega Cities?

KS: No plans for a Hondo-City Justice comeback as far as I know, but there are (see above) plenty of ideas which I discarded from this story alone, and there’s a nugget of a new direction for Inaba and Asahara‘s relationship in there as well. Seeing Neil’s frankly mighty work on this episode (alongside colourist Chris Blythe) is helping fill my mind with visions of where Hondo-City Justice could go in future, though – although I’d only want to pick it up if Robbie Morrison was done with it.

NEIL GOOGE: For me personally, Hondo City is my favourite location in the Dredd-Verse with Inaba (and Shimura) being my favourite characters.

I would absolutely love to do more work inside that little pocket of the universe as there’s so much that could be explored to separate it from all the other locations.

Lovely to see your art on this one – strikes me it’s a slightly different style to normal, or at least what we’ve become used to on Survival Geeks and the Regened work of recent years?

Well to be honest it’s the Survival Geeks/Regened work that’s a little different from my regular work. I’ve done a few bits in Hondo City previously and the style there is much the same as this one.

There’s plenty of great visual opportunities for artists with Hondo City I’d imagine?

With comics like Akira, Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell and Battle Angel Alita being my all time favourites (you can keep your Watchmen, it’s got nothing on Akira ;), and by far the biggest influences on my art and career, Hondo City just fits with me, and what I enjoy drawing so much better.

As I mentioned above, would love to do more work in the Hondo neck of the woods. Like Survival Geeks, it’s one of those projects I could just work on over and over. Which is rare for me as I do have a tendency to get bored doing the same characters too much.

Any change in your process this time?

NG: No, no real changes in process. The process stays the same, it’s just the style that’s I have to adjust depending on the project.

But each time I work in the Dredd-Verse, I just add more to my 3D model library for that universe. So I got to add the Hondo Justice bikes to my list, and a few things like food carts…even though we didn’t see them.

I’ve included some screen shots out of Sketchup, which is where I build all my 3D work for the comics.

The process is to thumbnail the story, so I know what’s needed. As you can see here, I basically build out models of what’s needed, and then reposition the camera around them to get the various shots I need to match the thumbnails for the pages.

I use a process called kitbashing. Which basically means I use a whole heap of parts from existing models and then model my own bits to add when needed.

A good example is the buggy. If you look closely, the main body is an edited chunk of the off road vehicle from the opening of the movie Serenity.

While this is a convenient way of getting great backgrounds and maintaining consistency in design, you can run in to one small problem, or at least I do. Building these models isn’t quick, that food cart took about a day to build, as did the off road buggy… neither of which actually ended up in the comic when I did the finished pages. Let’s say they went to the cutting room floor.

Still, the good thing is, I’ll likely find a use for them in the future. Which is the plus side over unused drawings, they can really find a use later!

Thank you to both Karl and Neil for all of that… you can find the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special at your local newsagent, local comic shop, and, of course, at the 2000 AD web shop from 7 July.

For even more on the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special, you’ll be able to see more interviews over the coming week, including this one with Matt Smith, Michael Carroll, and Maura McHugh, the architects of the Special, plus we chat to Neil Roberts about putting together that great cover in this Covers Uncovered feature.

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Interview: Chopper flies again in the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special with David Baillie and Tom Foster

More from the 2000 AD Sci-FI Special, as we turn to look at the legendary skysurfer, Marlon Shakespeare… better known as Chopper!

Chopper’s adventure is just part of the big storyline taking place through the Sci-Fi Special, masterminded by Tharg, Mike Carroll, and Maura McHugh, and featuring Judge Dredd, Judge Anderson, Cursed Earth Koburn, Chopper, Armitage, Devlin Waugh, and Judge Inaba!

Richard Bruton sat down with David Baillie and Tom Foster, the creative team behind the return of Marlon Shakespeare to 2000 AD as Chopper soars again!

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(Cover by Neil Roberts)

David, hello – how’s things going for you? Keeping well and safe? All vaxed up?

DAVID BAILLIE: Double jabbed and fully immortal now, thanks for asking!

You’re giving us more of Dreddworld’s greatest skysurfer as Chopper returns in Dreamgazer for this year’s Sci-Fi Special. But this time, it’s not a simple standalone strip, but one that’s a part of the bigger storyline, taking in all parts of Dreddworld, including Oz!

DB: It was actually really nice to write a six-pager that served a purpose outside of its own page count. Sometimes the trickiest part of writing shorter stories is getting the scope just right. Crafting a story that works on its own (hopefully) that also feeds into a larger narrative was a new experience, and unexpectedly freeing.

As I think has been already mentioned on social media, and other places where criminals and misfits gather, the Sci-Fi Special was fleshed out in 2000 AD‘s first writers room. In these Covid times that meant a very pleasant, albeit occasionally buffering, Zoom call, rather than us all being flown to Mike’s Castle or Maura’s mansion over in Ireland. Which is, it goes without saying, a shame.

A magnificent bit of Tom Foster artwork from Chopper: Dreamgazer
And the full process of breakdowns, pencils, and inks for that wonderful first panel… including a bit of a beard trim!

Did Tharg crack the whip and let you know what you could and couldn’t put in this one to fit in with the overall storyline? Or did he leave that down to his minions, the Carroll and McHugh Droids?

DB: Actually, there were very few constraints, outside of each story having to perform various over-arching narrative functions.

As a big Only Connect fan, I have a tendency to put Victoria Coren Mitchell in all of my stories. Unfortunately, she’s never yet made the final cut – and in this case, Tharg specifically asked me to leave her out this time, just to skip that time-consuming editorial step. Apart from that, I think the outline itself for the uber-story was a couple of paragraphs and some suggested reading. Maura and Mike were kind enough to give all the underlying writers lots of leeway to do their thing, and I think the joy of that freedom shows in the final product.

The devil, and the fun, is in the details.

Okay then David, putting aside the obsessional nature of the whole Victoria Coren Mitchell thing (I’m sure it’s only a rumour that Tharg had to tell you not to do it because of some sort of restraining order). But this short Chopper tale marks your return to Chopper after 2018’s Wandering Spirit with Brendan McCarthy. Was it good to return to the world of Chopper here?

DB: Chopper is genuinely my favourite Dreddworld character – he’s like a freaky older brother whose adventures I’ve grown up reading. And like most real people he’s had numerous varied phases in his life. Getting the chance to join him for not one but two of those chapters has been an absolute delight.

Without spoilering the whole thing, can you give us just a little idea of what to expect, both from the Sci-Fi Special and Dreamgazer?

DB: Get ready to meet a new Big Bad for the world of the Judges, prepare yourself for a Dredd/Anderson scene the likes of which you’ve never seen before, and gird yourself for a revelation about what happened to Chopper at the end of Wandering Spirit, a development that will answer some questions, and raise yet more!

Where are we with Chopper now? How long after the events of Wandering Spirit is Dreamgazer?

DB: I’ve been trying to keep as close as possible to the Dreddworld timeline, which advances at the same rate as our own – so this takes place roughly three years after the conclusion of Wandering Spirit. After a ‘lost year’ Chop’s spent the last couple of summers living in a unique location, being a bother to the local judiciary.

It also explores, just briefly, a new Chopper, changed after his experiences in the Dreamtime. He talks of the Dreamtime flowing through him, making the physical world effortless to navigate, and shows us his board literally runs off Dreamtime energy. Now that definitely seems to be worth further investigation – any plans for more Chopper coming up any time soon?

DB: May those honeyed words flutter from your mouth to Tharg’s ears. I certainly have a notebook here full of ideas.

You’ve been very fortunate with your Chopper stories to have worked with a couple of stunning artists. First, obviously, there was Brendan McCarthy. Here though, it’s a completely different look with Tom Foster’s wonderful work.

DB: Whenever I’m trying to explain 2000 AD to Americans I always start by explaining how, as a new writer working for 2000 AD, it was a really rich learning experience to see wildly different interpretations of my first few scripts come in. I’ve been blessed over the years to work with such great artists, not just at 2000 AD, but across the board.

Tom and Brendan in particular, are two people whose work I’ve admired since I first encountered it. And to be able to write for them, and see what magic they weave with my scratched-out-with-a-stick scripts has been beyond gratifying. I suppose what I’m basically saying is: they really do make me look good!

Which seems as good a place as any to bring Tom Foster, artist extraordinaire, into the conversation…

Tom, when it came to Chopper in this year’s Sci-Fi Special, you were not only taking on a classic, much-loved character, but following in the footsteps of giants artistically – with the last Chopper series benefiting from the art of Brendan McCarthy.

So… terrifying much?

TF: The good thing about a character like Chopper is that he’s been drawn by enough different artists that you don’t feel obligated to live up to one particular person’s rendition. Obviously, McCarthy is 2000 AD royalty, so there were some pretty big shoes to fill, but we have dissimilar enough styles that I hope no one will make too many unfavourable comparisons.

Obviously, your Chopper is different to what’s gone before, both with your artwork and with the entire mood/emotional state of the character. But I think you’ve done something of a stunning job of it. But there’s one particular panel of Chopper soaring through the Blocks in Oz, that screams classic Chopper.

This one in fact… both the full panel in your inks and a blow-up of the finished panel…

It’s a small panel, but it’s so well done, just looking like a perfect, classic Chopper moment, harking back to the Chopper of old that we all fell in love with.

Was that a deliberate thing on your part to be referencing the classic Chopper surfing through the blocks?

TF: Partly, yes. But it was mostly there for story purposes. I only really had one panel to get from a big establishing shot of Chopper’s new digs to him stumbling across the convoy in the Radback. So I wanted something that very definitely communicated him flying out of the city and covering some distance. And thank you for the criminally flattering review.

DB: Oh yes, that particular shot was all Tom – in the script I had suggested panel one could be a close-up of Chopper busting open the door of his home and panel two could be a wider shot showing us both him escaping and the wider context of the interesting place he now lives.

That was way too pedestrian for Mr. Foster, who slammed those first two scripted descriptions into one mega-panel, freeing up panel two for a Supersurf callback that I’ve already had tattooed on my chest.

It’s also Tom’s fault that Chop is nude.

TF: Yes, I can confirm that. If you’re drawing a man leaping out of bed and bouncing around a confined space, confounding the police, and you DON’T draw him naked then you need to take a good look at your priorities.

Tom, you’ve recently come off the Judge Dredd: Penitent Man strip, now you get to do Chopper… are you secretly completing a wishlist of 2000 AD classic characters here?

TF: It looks that way. I’ve been very lucky with my assignments over the last few years and this one was a particular favourite. It’s not that I was specifically waiting to do a Chopper story, but, when I started working on it, I discovered how much fun he is to draw.

David, away from 2000 AD, congratulations to you for the recent news that your and Meghan Hetrick’s Vertigo series, Red Thorn, has been picked up by Emilia di Girolamo, production company Wall to Wall, and BBC Scotland as what’s being reported as a six hour-long episode series. Are you involved in that at all, consulting, writing?

DB: I wish I could talk about that sort of stuff, but NDAs forbid me from going into any detail. I think it’s okay to say that Meghan and myself sold that option last year and that it wasn’t the first. Various giddy parties have wanted to bring Red Thorn to television since the first issue dropped. Red Thorn has been good to me in many ways… It got me on the front page of the Scotsman, and invited to my beloved Edinburgh Book festival and other entirely unexpected occasions like a function at the Scottish Parliament, where I got to drink whisky with Succession’s Brian Cox and discuss socialism. It also provided me an easy-street route into television which meant I didn’t have to beg for scraps. RIP Vertigo. Sniff…

Well, we wish you and Meghan all the best with Red Thorn – we’re looking forward to seeing it!

What sort of things can we expect to see from both of you in the future?

DB: I’m currently typing away on a story 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, and finally (I hope) featuring Victoria Coren Mitchell.

It really is a very unhealthy thing, isn’t it?

TF: I’m back on Dredd again, but it might be a while before it comes out. I’ve been really slow with it so far as there’s quite a bit of detail in it, but I’m hoping to pick up the pace in short order.

Thank you to both Tom and David for all of that… well, apart from the whole VCM thing perhaps.

You can find the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special at your local newsagent, local comic shop, and, of course, at the 2000 AD web shop from 7 July.

For even more on the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special, you’ll be able to see more interviews over the coming week, plus we chat to Neil Roberts about putting together that great cover in this Covers Uncovered feature.

Now, for more of David Baillie here at the 2000 AD site, be sure to read the interview from David and Brendan McCarthy all about Chopper: Wandering Spirit, then look at this one with Anna Morozova about the Regened strip Viva Forever, and another with Rob Davis all about those troubles with Gronkses.

And for more from Tom Foster, don’t forget to look up the couple of interviews here at the site from Tom – as part of the Thought Bubble/2000 AD contest winners, and all about Judge Dredd: A Penitent Man. Plus, his legendary From The Drawing Board video is here and you can hear more of his dulcit tones in the 2000 AD lockdown tapes here as well.

And now…more of Tom Foster’s gorgeous looking artwork… starting with the complete process of pencils, inks, finished art for page one of Chopper: Dreamgazer

Chopper: Dreamgazer – page 1 – pencils by Tom Foster
Chopper: Dreamgazer – page 1 – inks by Tom Foster
And the finished page, nearly showing Chopper in all his glory!

And the full process from complete roughs, through pencils and inks, to final finished coloured panel for page 3, panel 1…

Chopper: Dreamgazer – page 2, panel 1 – roughs by Tom Foster
Chopper: Dreamgazer – page 2, panel 1 – pencils by Tom Foster
Chopper: Dreamgazer – page 2, panel 1 – inks by Tom Foster
And the final panel from Chopper: Dreamgazer – page 2, panel 1 by Tom Foster

And now the inks for page four of Dreamgazer, following by a few inked figure poses…

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Interview: Anna Morozova talks all things Judge Anderson – ‘All Will Be Judged’

This year’s 2000 AD Sci-FI Special gives us one thrilling Dreddworld tale across six stories. It’s an epic tale with a BIG bad… seriously, you can’t get much bigger!

So join us as we take a trip around the world of Dredd in stories featuring Judge Dredd, Judge Anderson, Cursed Earth Koburn, Chopper, Armitage, Devlin Waugh, and Judge Inaba!

It’s all masterminded by Michael Carroll and Maura McHugh, who put together the overarching storyline and collaborated on the final part. Maura McHugh also wrote the Judge Anderson chapter – we’ve already talked to her, Mike Carroll, and editor Matt Smith about the Sci-Fi Special, as well as others involved in the Special.

Here, Richard Bruton sits down with McHugh’s artistic collaborator on Anderson, Psi: All Will Be JudgedAnna Morozova, one of the new, young artists breaking through in 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine over recent years.

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(Cover by Neil Roberts)

Anna, how was the experience of drawing one of Dreddworld’s iconic characters for you?

ANNA MOROZOVA: To me, it’s been truly fantastic! I must admit, it feels quite nice to join the ranks of those lucky art-droids trusted to interpret this legendary character. I only hope that I did Anderson in particular, and Psi-Division in general, justice with the way I visualised their appearances and skills.

When we last spoke, about Viva Forever, you talked of your style still evolving and that really shows up in this Anderson strip.

AM: Sure. I hope my style continues to evolve. It’s quite difficult for me to look at my own work from even a month ago – if it was me drawing the same thing now, in the present moment, it would already look different.

Although I guess it’s one of the most common complaints amongst those who draw for a living or even as a hobby: never happy, always evolving, sometimes drifting and trying new styles and techniques, but, (fingers and pencils crossed!) still evolving.

AM: As for the comparison between Viva and Psi-Division, I think the difference is also dictated by the pace and type of action in the strips. Viva Forever is grounded, physical, yet sharp and sleek whereas Psi-Division’s All Will Be Judged is more abstract, with psi-powers influencing the flow of what takes place in the strip, which in turn allows (if not even demands at times) me to be more fluent and experimental with brush strokes, for instance.

You mentioned being heavily influenced by European comics art, but I couldn’t help but see something of the older Brit girls’ comics coming through in your work here – and all those classic Brit and Spanish artists who worked on them.

AM: I hope you’re right. And if you’re right, I will certainly take that as a compliment because if I’m capable of channeling such an aesthetic, even slightly in my own storytelling work, then I must be doing something right!

I can see a wonderful litheness and flow to your art here, never shown more than a wonderful few panels on page two on the strip… where your artwork flows so smoothly, going from panel one to panel three using the device of transitioning from the wheel of Anderson‘s Lawmaster to her hair, whilst also then using Anderson’s profile to create an artificial panel border between panel two and three… here’s what I’m talking about…

AM: I tried to be a little bit more intuitive style-wise with All Will Be Judged. We are telling a story that very much relies on characters’ psychic abilities as well as the presence of paranormal, out-of-this-world entities… It would be almost unfair to cage it all up within standard framing!

Anderson and her fellow Psi-Judges are very much about ‘out of the box’ way of thinking, so why not use the original material as inspiration? You can’t lock them up in their own heads, never mind the page. Personally, speaking though, I’m a huge fan of structured storytelling and clear framing. Although when it comes to drawing comics myself, I somewhat tend to lean towards curious, natural panel-to-panel transitions and layouts. I now wish I had done a bit more of that on All Will Be Judged

Obviously, this was a deliberate thing, but I wanted to just mention it, as it’s one of those really lovely things that leaped out from the page.

AM: This certainly encourages me to do more of that in the future! As long as it doesn’t get out of hand and my creative vision doesn’t interrupt clear storytelling.

Similarly, there’s a gorgeous flow and presence to the sequences of the trio of Judges (well, quartet I suppose, if we’re counting ghostly presences!) dealing with the threat of the big bad of the storyline.

AM: Taking my queue from Maura’s professional guidance in the script, it was a joy to illustrate the team in action. Again, I think there’s quite a generous potential for creative exploitation of page layouts and transitions between panels considering the type of characters we’re dealing with. The personalities and the dynamics within the group topped up by immense psychic abilities… definitely something to look into in the future (and I very much hope I will get a chance to!).

And then we have a more abstracted imagery in the astral plane scenes of Anderson facing off against Skehmet.

AM: Now that looked pretty organic in pencils! I love the depth and multilayer-ness achieved by pencil drawing. It’s a bit harder to achieve the same effects with inks (digital inks this time in my case), but I will keep trying and improving my skills on that front.

There’s so much strength and style involved all the way through the strip, giving us a really great looking Anderson and her team, showing us just how kick-ass MC-1’s leading Psi can be (and always has been.)

AM: I hope the readers will agree with you on that! On a serious note though, I know there’s a certain amount of debate regarding the looks of these legendary characters ageing in real time (Re-Juve, hello?).

My approach was to express characters’ experience and, yes, age, mainly through their eyes and expressions. Their physical appearance may vary depending on an artist’s interpretation, though what’s always important is to ensure that Anderson & Co. retain that unique depth of character that we’re all used to.

One last thing, what else do we have coming up from you, both in 2000/Megazine and elsewhere?

AM: A dark and chilling one-off from the masterful pen of John Tomlinson. I’m already past the pencils of the first page and let me tell you: I’m really going for this one! Also, in parallel to that, something immensely exciting for me to work on; illustrating a script by Alan Hebden for a new publication called Pandora!

Thank you to Anna for all of that… absolutely gorgeous work.

You can find the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special at your local newsagent, local comic shop, and, of course, at the 2000 AD web shop from 7 July.

For even more on the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special, you’ll be able to see more interviews over the coming week, plus we chat to Neil Roberts about putting together that great cover in this Covers Uncovered feature.

For more here at the 2000 AD site on Anna Morozova, be sure to have a look at the recent Viva Forever interview she gave us.

Now finally, Anna kindly sent over a large number of photos and scans of her pencil and inks process for this Anderson strip – and it would be criminal not to share them with you!

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Interviews: Liam Johnson on ‘Getting Devlin and Armitage to shut up,’ for the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special

This summer, the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special takes a Zarjaz trip around the world of Dredd – with a stellar line-up of creators bringing us tales featuring Judge Dredd, Judge Anderson, Cursed Earth Koburn, Chopper, Armitage, Devlin Waugh, and Judge Inaba – all in one big, Earth-threatening mystery!

Planned by Tharg (Matt Smith) with writers Michael Carroll and Maura McHugh plotting out the overall arc and writing framing chapters, this is a Sci-Fi Special that’s very special indeed!

Richard Bruton sat down with Liam Johnson, writer of the Sci-Fi Special strip Armitage: Natural Fern Killer, featuring the dandiest, vampiest Devlin Waugh to chat all things Brit Cit, global threats, writing in a pandemic, and trying to get two classic characters to shut up!

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(Cover by Neil Roberts)

Liam, good to speak to you again. It’s been something of a rollercoaster couple of years since your 2019 win at the annual 2000 AD writer and artist talent search at the Thought Bubble Comic Art Festival.

I can bet nothing you could imagine writing would have matched just how the world was going to go to hell in the couple of years since that win!

LIAM JOHNSON: It’s great speaking to you too, Richard. Ironically enough, I quit my job in March 2020 to give this being a writer thing a proper go. Good timing, eh? Hopefully, now there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, we can all get back to some level of normality. Not physically going to Thought Bubble last year was really strange. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t attend and I really want to get back there.

In the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special this year, things are a bit different, with an overarching storyline tying everything together. Your strip is Armitage: Natural Fern Killer, featuring not one but two iconic Brit Cit characters in Armitage and Devlin Waugh.

Without giving too much away of the bigger story involved, what can we look forward to in Natural Fern Killer?

LJ: Natural Fern Killer is at its core a Brit Cit buddy cop story. Armitage, now very much feeling his age, is forced into teaming up with Devlin Waugh to try solve a series of murders throughout Brit Cit. How does that tie-in to the larger story? Well, buy the book and find out!

And the title? Top punning!

LJ: I think I’ve received more praise for that title than anything else I’ve written. Ha! I’m glad it’s gone down so well. Titles are a weird one. It can take you 3 seconds or 3 months to come up with the perfect title.

(Armitage: Natural Ferm Killer – art by Robin Smith)

I imagine it was plenty of fun dipping into the decadent world of Armitage and Devlin and playing with the fun dynamic between two of Brit Cit’s finest characters?

LJ: Honestly, the hardest part of writing this strip was getting Devlin and Armitage to shut up. I could’ve easily written a whole epic-length tale of them just locked in a room. The characters couldn’t be more opposite and that’s why their chemistry is so perfect.

My one wish for the strip, besides obviously people enjoying it, is that it leads to more stories with the two working as a team. Even if I don’t get to write them, I want to read them.

(Armitage: Natural Ferm Killer – art by Robin Smith)

It’s something of a strange situation to be writing these stories, as they’re all feeding into the overarching storyline that’s being masterminded by Mike Carroll and Maura McHugh – how did you go about writing your part of the Sci-Fi Special?

LJ: I really loved the collaboration aspect of working on the Sci-Fi Special. I describe myself as having two parallel careers, in that, besides writing comics, I also write for television. In television, Writers Rooms are the norm. Throwing out ideas, breaking story, coming up with fixes – I live for that stuff. Getting to do that with Maura and Mike was really fantastic. I’ll admit it was intimidating to begin, saying those two know what they’re doing is a massive understatement, but they couldn’t have been more generous, helpful and gracious. I’d like to see more of this type of collaboration. I think it only leads to better stories.

What sort of instructions came down from on high from Matt (Smith), Maura, and Mike?

LJ: We got given an overall plot with the Sci-Fi Special. The sections Mike and Maura went on to script were more fleshed out to establish the sense of “This is where we’re starting and this is where we need to end.” Then they provided us with suggested plots that highlighted the particular beats we needed to hit for everything to come together. From that point, we had a big video meeting, where we were welcomed to throw out our own ideas and suggestions. There were no egos in the room. I was very much the new kid in the class but everyone, including Karl Stock and David Baille, where so welcoming and friendly.

Was there plenty of space in the brief to tell the story you wanted, whilst still contributing to the overall storyline?

LJ: While Maura and Mike had provided us with the blueprint, they encouraged us to make our stories our own. I can’t speak for everyone else but I never felt constricted. Personally, I enjoy working with a set of guidelines. When someone says to me “Do anything you want”, that’s a little too freeing. I like to know what the boundaries are so I can push against them. Later, we were provided with notes on our scripts, which we are all massively constructive but, like all good edits, while problems were pointed out, we were encouraged to come up with our own solves and fixes. The only way it could’ve been a more positive experience is if I’d had the chance to meet everyone in person and thank them.

(Armitage: Natural Ferm Killer – art by Robin Smith)

One of the wonderful things about the Sci-Fi Special is seeing the talent involved, with the new breed of writers and artists mixing it up with some classic names. And there’s none more classic than the artist on Armitage here – the legendary Robin Smith, one of Tharg’s early art droids, later to go on and co-create The Bogie Man with John Wagner and Alan Grant.

What was it like hearing you were writing for Robin?

LJ: It was an absolute dream. I’d literally just been reading some of Robin’s old Progs when the email came through and I couldn’t have been happier. It’s been a while since Robin’s been in the Prog but he hasn’t missed a beat. I really hope we get to work together again someday.

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

LJ: I haven’t seen it lettered and coloured yet, but the artwork blew me away. The best part of making comics is seeing the magic the artist or art team produce. There really isn’t a better feeling. It’s like Christmas morning but it can happen out of the blue at any time. I’ve been privileged to work with nothing but amazing artists at 2000 AD, colourers and letterers too, so I have no reason to doubt the finished product won’t be outstanding as always.

(Armitage: Natural Ferm Killer – art by Robin Smith)

Since winning the Thought Bubble competition, you’ve seen the publication of your and fellow winner, artist Robin Henley’s Future Shock, A.I. Love You (Prog 2182), a second Future Shock in Prog 2197, Stream M For Murder, Venus Bluegenes in the Regened Prog 2206, and Cadet Dredd in Regened Prog 2233.

Looking back on your last couple of years, how’s it been for you?

LJ: I’d wanted to write comics, and specifically for 2000 AD, for years and years. It still doesn’t feel real, I think partly because of these last 18 months. Only A.I. Love You was written pre-pandemic so I’m looking forward to soon writing a strip while not surrounded by a global sense of dread (no pun intended). As a side note, purely a reader, can I applaud 2000 AD and Matt Smith especially, for not missing a beat this whole time? They provided some much-required escapism for us all.

I couldn’t be more grateful that Matt’s invited me to write for the Prog several times more now. And I’d like to thank the readers too. Without their kind words and encouragement, I wouldn’t have had those chances. I hope to get to do more but if, for whatever reason, that doesn’t happen, the experience has been everything I wanted it to be and more.

(Armitage: Natural Ferm Killer – art by Robin Smith)

What have we got to look forward to from you in the future?

LJ: I’m thrilled to say that I’ve been invited back to write another Cadet Dredd strip. I had so much fun writing Joe and Rico last time, it’s great to be able to do it all again. I really love the Regened format, it’s such a great space to play in.

Besides that, I’ve got some short comics popping up at other publishers over the next six months or so. A mini-series I wrote years ago, called Missing Persons, is finally seeing print in August. Though I’m not sure of the audience crossover, I’ve got several episodes of Emmerdale, due to air later in the year.

And, now that I feel like I’ve found my feet as a writer, expect to see some creator-owned work from me down the line.

Thanks to Liam for taking the time – you can find him at his website, on Twitter… and chained to his desk writing!

You can find the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special at your local newsagent, local comic shop, and, of course, at the 2000 AD web shop from 7 July.

For even more on the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special, you’ll be able to see more interviews over the coming week, plus we chat to Neil Roberts about putting together that great cover in this Covers Uncovered feature. And for more from Liam Johnson and his 2019 Thought Bubble/2000 AD win, check out our interview with Liam and Robin Healey.