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INTERVIEW: the return of Chopper with David Baillie and Brendan McCarthy!

Originally inspired by a 2000 AD fan letter signed off as “From Chopper”, John Wagner and Alan Grant created the wall-scrawling anti-establishment icon Marlon Shakespeare for the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic in 1981.

Since his first appearance in Prog 206, Chopper has gone from king scrawler of MC-1 to one of the all-time greatest skysurfers. And along the way, despite only appearing fewer than 100 issues of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, he’s become one of the most beloved and enduring of characters.

It’s now time to revisit Chopper, fourteen years after his last appearance, as David Baillie and Brendan McCarthy sing another song of the surfer. Richard Bruton asks the questions…

Richard Bruton: It’s been 14 years since we last heard from Chopper. He returns in Meg 395 with Wandering Soul. What can you tell us about the story?

David Baillie: Wandering Soul is a five-part story, each episode is ten heart-pounding pages long. All of the best Chopper epics come in at around the 50-page mark, which makes this the perfect length.

Our story is set in Oz’s scorching Radback, where Chopper’s been almost entirely on his own, surfing megathermals for the last few years. We have a whole new cast of characters for Chopper to ally himself with and rail against, although I found it impossible to resists a few cameos (and one almost-cameo). Chopper has befriended a nomadic Aboriginal tribe, whose travels have crossed his own a few times over the years. Normally when this happens it’s is a cause for celebration but something terrible happens this time – in the shape of a band of brutal mutant marauders, armed with a secret weapon from the history of Oz. It’ll take all of Chopper’s guile and strength to save his friends – and everyone else – from the evil that is unleashed.

In the long history of 2000 AD, Chopper has been a character that’s resonated incredibly strongly with the readers. What do you both think makes Chopper so popular?

DB: A lot of readers were about the same age as Chopper when he first appeared, and have aged alongside him in the intervening years. This probably helped us all really invest in the highs and lows of one of the most remarkable of any of Mega City One’s sons or daughters. From teenage graffiti artist, to cube resident, then ex-con on the run before becoming an international powerboard star – he might have only appeared in a couple of hundred pages but he’s done so much with that page-time! And if I’ve made Chopper’s life story sound plot-heavy, it hasn’t been at all. At times heartbreaking, almost always poignant – his has been an incredibly interesting journey. The story of a guy looking for some sort of meaning in his life, and the horrors he meets on the way.

Rather famously, in Prog 655, John Wagner effectively left Chopper dying after Supersurf 11 and the Song of the Surfer storyline. Garth Ennis revived the character for the first six issues of the Megazine back in 1990. And has gone on record as saying how big a mistake he thought it was: “Chopper was kicking about at the time. He had been pretty much shot to death in John’s story, Song of the Surfer. There’s no doubt about it, he should have been left there.” So, given that we have heard nothing from the super surfer since Big Meg by Wagner and Dylan Teague in 2004… What made you decide that now was the right time to bring him back?

DB: I’ve secretly harboured a desire to bring back Chopper for years now, but had never actually mentioned it to anyone. At last year’s 2000 AD 40th birthday bash con I was signing my name with a little Chopper happy face. After Wandering Soul was announced a fan tweeted to say that he’d cracked my code and had known all along what I was doing next. Which is brilliant as Tharg hadn’t even asked me at that point!

I think it’s fair to say that there have been a few mis-steps in the Chopper chronicles since Song of the Surfer. Before writing Wandering Soul I sat down and inhaled every page the character appears on (even a single panel mention in an Al Ewing story from a few years ago). Most of that re-read was sublime, but some of it is ever so slightly painful in places. I definitely disagree that bringing him back was a mistake – but you could argue that some of what happened afterwards may have been.

Chop’s very much alive and the job Brendan and I have is to make the next chapter of his saga as memorable and meaningful as those incredible early epics.

Given the unique conceit in Dredd, that the years pass in real time, this would make Marlon Shakespeare well into his middle age by now, given that he was a teen in his 1981 debut Un-American Graffiti. Thirty-seven years later, he’d be somewhere between 50 and 56. What does that mean for the strip? And is Chopper still surfing?

DB: Chopper’s never gonna stop surfing! Chopper has youthful genes, combined with his athletic pursuits and a simple lifestyle he’s aged very well. He’s not some creaky old geezer on a board when we meet him – but he’s also not Peter Pan. And of course no matter how well a body weathers, the years always change the person inside, and that’s absolutely the case with Chopper. He’s seen a lot, lived through an incredible amount of trauma and it’s all left marks, scars even, but that’s made him far stronger than even he knows. Wandering Soul is all about pushing him to the limit, showing both him and us exactly what he’s really capable of.

David, your 2000 AD strips to date have been short features, prose stories etc. Taking on a multi-parter featuring one of the truly iconic 2000 AD characters in Chopper is something of a great step up for you. How does it feel to have the weight of expectation upon you?

DB: I hadn’t really thought about the weight of expectation at all until all the tweets and requests for interviews came in after the announcement. One of the nice things about working in comics is that by the time all that stuff kicks in you’ve usually finished the work and so it’s not a consideration. The magnitude of the task wasn’t lost on me though. I set out to make this story be as close to the original Wagner epics in terms of style and quality as possible, while taking full advantage of the creative whirlwind talents of Brendan, and that’s no mean feat. I spent weeks reading and re-reading old stories, and doing loads of background research on Australian Aboriginal life, and the science and magic that appear in the story. It’s probably the longest I’ve ever taken to write fifty pages of comics but I was determined to do right by Chop.

Brendan, you’re following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Ron Smith, Cam Kennedy, and Colin MacNeil on Chopper. Is this something you consider in planning the artistic style, or will you be delivering the strip in pure McCarthy style?

Brendan McCarthy: I’m drawing the strip in a style suitable to the story requirements, invoking Aborigine designs which is line with the Australian ‘Radback’ setting. It’s been fun to get into the Oz judges again, a branch of the Judge culture that I originally created way back when.

Over the years, your artwork has graced so many of the characters in 2000 AD, as well as featuring your own, unique creations. Any preference to established characters versus new strips?

BM: After seeing the recent big hardcover collection of my Dredd strips, I thought it would be fun to do some new material set in Dredd’s world — hence the Hoverods two-parter. I called Tharg up one day and suggested a story set in the Oz Radback and so we cooked up this Chopper story. But I like to create my own new characters and worlds too.

Your last major work for 2000 AD was 2012’s Zaucer Of Zilk, with Al Ewing, a fabulously enjoyable, totally over the top experience. Any thoughts on bringing that back at some point for a second series?

BM: I’ve had a few chats with Al about a new Zaucer strip and we’re open to it, but it’s mainly scheduling. Al is a very busy writer at Marvel, so it’s finding a time where we both have availability. I’m sure it’ll get done at some point. The strip worked well, particularly in the US collected IDW edition, where American readers seemed to take to its unique British, Tim Burtonesque sensibilities. It may have been a bit too fabulous for the hard sci-fi sensibilities of some 2000 AD readers! Still, it was something different and there is a tradition of more bizarre and surreal stories, like Hewligan’s Haircut and Shaky Kane’s stuff.

The return of Chopper isn’t your first post apocalyptic surfing story either, with yourself and Peter Milligan creating Freakwave. And if I’m right in my dates, this would have been early 80s, finally seeing publication in Strange Days, 1984. This was actually before Chopper took up the board himself in 1986’s Midnight Surfer tale by John Wagner, Alan Grant, and Cam Kennedy. Olde Tharg-lore would have it that the Oz storyline was suggested by your good self.

BM: The idea for Chopper as a flying surfer originated from a trip I made to Australia about 35 years ago and later, upon return to rain-sodden Blighty, I approached John Wagner about doing a sunny Australian-based Dredd strip. And that’s what John came up with.

Over your long career, you’ve worked with so many talented writers and artists, and worked in many different fields. This includes a massively successful career as a designer and storyboard artist on various film and animation projects. Most recently, and most successfully you not only designed but co-wrote 2015’s Mad Max: Fury RoadNow, with Hollywood calling, and a massive hit like that to your name… what is it about comics that keeps pulling you back?  

BM: Hollywood can waste a massive amount of your time through projects getting derailed and canned… It happens all the time and is very frustrating, as years can go by with nothing concrete to show for your time. Obviously, when it hits, it hits big, as in the case of Fury Road and the original Ninja Turtles movie. Out of nowhere about 10 years ago, DC Comics called me up and asked if I’d like to do the final issue of their prestige Artist’s series SOLO. That rekindled my interest in comics and in getting stories out to the public. I had a backlog of comic ideas, and after doing the FEVER series for Marvel, I approached 2000 AD with the Zaucer idea. Tharg put me in touch with Al Ewing and we figured out The Zaucer of Zilk story. After that I did a creator-owned graphic novel for Dark Horse called Dream Gang which I wrote and drew. I like to mix up my own stories and then draw other people’s characters for a while. I’m writing a new thing at the moment, in between drawing Chopper.

What are your backgrounds in comics? Both reading (first experiences) and getting into comics?

DB: Reading newsprint Marvel UK reprints of Stan and Jack comics in the ’80s are among my earliest memories, then collecting coins found down the back of the couch to buy this week’s Spider-Man before I was old enough to get pocket money. I discovered 2000 AD in my teens and spent many, many weekends scouring boot sales and second hand markets around West Lothian and Glasgow hunting down old Progs, often almost breaking my back carrying hundreds of them home at a time. I always wanted to make comics but it honestly seemed like an impossible dream for a working class boy in a Scottish mining town. I probably don’t need to to describe my career advisor’s face when I told him my ambitions. It wasn’t until I was nearly twenty that I met people who’d actually managed to create comics, self-publishers and people who’d worked for 2000 AD and in the US. I eventually started out as an indie cartoonist at the turn of the millennium, writing, drawing, folding and stapling my own mini-comics and then hand selling them at conventions. (I vaguely recall writing a few Megazine columns about this, actually…) From there I was determined to emulate the career path of my heroes – working for 2000 AD and then Vertigo. Which finally came to pass, although it took a bit longer than I’d wanted it to. Now having achieved everything I ever dreamed of I can rest easy.

BM: Grew up reading them, and writing and drawing them in the back of school exercise books. Got serious with Valiant comic and The Steel Claw, Dan Dare, Frank Bellamy and then the ’60s Marvel and DC. A similar trajectory to many creators who later went on to fame and fortune. I was recently noting the amount of comic book people who have made a big impression on the wider entertainment industry. We really are taking over the world… I read Yarooh! at an impressionable age, the Billy Bunter-inspired underground comic, which printed stories featuring lots of jolly good thrashings and the stealing of Jammy Dodgers from the school tuck shop. This led to an intense ambition to draw The Bash Street Kids, an aspiration I’ve yet to fulfil, sadly. I once cooked up a surreal ‘school days’ script with Sir Grant Morrison called School For Fools, which is yet to see the light. Fo’ real.

You can catch up with the complete adventures of Chopper in Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files #4, #9, #11, and #12. And he appears in his own collection, Surf’s Up, featuring the magnificent Song Of The Surfer.

Chopper: Wandering Soul begins in Judge Dredd Megazine #395, out on 18th April!

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INTERVIEW: Si Spencer and Nicolo Assirelli on THE RETURNERS

Hola! Welcome to delights of South America’s Ciudad Barranquilla – the poorest city in the world and one of the most corrupt, with the Judges just as dodgy as the Cartel bosses.

Starting in this month’s Judge Dredd Megazine #394, writer Si Spencer and new 2000 AD artist Nicolo Assirelli venture into this hotbed of criminality and corruption in The Returners: Irmazhina.

Opening with a Justice Department city block disappearing from the face of the Earth, the six-part series takes four unlikely, and shady, characters on an adventure in a mysterious Mayan pyramid only they can see.

Richard Bruton talks to Si Spencer and Nicolo Assirelli about what we can expect from this latest South American sojourn in the Megazine

Richard Bruton: Your new strip, The Returners begins this month in the Megazine #394. Can you give us a quick idea of what we have to look forward to?

Si Spencer: It’s set in Ciudad Barranquilla (CB), basically four very different criminals suffer a near-death experience at exactly the same moment that an entire Justice Department Block disappears. When they come round from their flatlines, it seems they’re the only ones able to penetrate the force-field surrounding the wreckage. And they’re the only ones who can see the giant Mayan pyramid that stands in its place. The four perps – a dirty Judge, a streetgang boss, a polygender hooker and a murdering occultist – are offered an amnesty if they go inside the pyramid to find out what’s going on. It’s kinda Dirty Dozen meets Indiana Jones… but with a vengeful, murdering pre-Columbian goddess. This story’s a six parter but I think I’ve been pretty blatant with the title when it comes to looking for a second series.

Over the years, we’ve seen an awful lot of the Mega-Cities of the USA and the Sov Block, a fair bit of Brit-Cit and Sino-Cit. But Banana City hasn’t exactly featured much in Dredd history. At most it’s a corrupt Mega-City full of stereotypes and a mass of corruption. What was it that led you to Banana City for this tale?

SS: Basically it was ‘hey, who doesn’t like a spooky pyramid filled with traps and bloodthirsty goddesses? Where in the Megaverse would have such a thing?’

In MC-1, it’s all very structured, rules in place somewhat for characters and writers/artists alike. Did playing in CB give you some more room to go further? Is there something of a sense of having a little more lattitude in what’s available, what you can do, when setting a tale outside of MC-1?

SS: I’ve always tended to shy away from MC-1 during my various stints on the Megazine but I’m not sure why. It’s not really about avoiding structure and rules, cos usually the more restrictions I’ve got, the happier I am. To be honest, I think there are so many brilliant stories set there, I feel safer going elsewhere and avoiding being compared unfavourably to the greats. Or maybe I’m just too lazy to do all the homework, so setting stories outside the megacity is a cheap and easy way of not stepping too much on canon. Jeez, I knew that spiking myself with sodium pentothal before doing this was a mistake.

Given that the story sounds like it’s mostly going to be set inside the Mayan pyramid, will we be seeing something of the delights of CB?

Nicolo Assirelli: Yes, we’ll see CB, I tried to stick with the city design found in some pages by Carlos Ezquerra. The uniforms of the Judges are based on the design by Will Simpson, on the pages of “Banana City”.

The idea of the four perps locked in the pyramid obviously plays on the old story trope of the chamber-piece: Alien, Die Hard, The Thing… that sort of thing. It’s a fun thing to read or watch, but what are you planning on bringing to The Returners to set it apart and stop reviewers and readers describing it as a ‘Dredd-world Die Hard’ in a pyramid?

SS: Without blowing our own trumpets too much, I think between us Nicolo and I have come up with something in that pyramid that you’re really not going to be expecting. I can’t say too much, but we’ve got us a damn-fine antagonist that’s hopefully going to give you serious chills. Not to mention some seriously unpleasant perps.

Nicolo, can you tell us a little about your process, and how you create the strip? Is it full colour? digital? painted? etc etc…

NA: I start with rough little layouts, than I pencil the page, print it in blue and ink over it. Then scans and some digital adjustments if needed. And finally, the wonderful Eva De La Cruz adds colours!

When did you first discover 2000 AD and what were your first comics? And what influences have really had the biggest effect upon your work?

SS: After starting with the standard British funnies – Monster Fun, Whizzer and Chips, Cor and so on – and the old black and white Marvel reprints in Fantastic and Terrific. I gave up on comics in my teens and only came back to them in my twenties, when Tharg got me back into comics around 1979/80. I loved the Britishness, the total punk anarchy, the uniqueness of the art styles, the dynamism, the radical approach to old ideas. Just beautifully British.

NA: I grew up and live in Faenza, a little city in Emilia Romagna, Italy. Playpress published some Dredd/Batman and Dredd/Lobo comics in the nineties, than it was the turn of Magicpress, with more stories focused on Dredd and now Editoriale Cosmo is publishing more! Unfortunately no other 2000 AD characters were published in Italy! I’d seen the Dredd Stallone movie when I was a kid and then discovered the comics’ version in those team-ups with Batman and Lobo. More recently I read new stories and published sample pages on the 2000 AD forum sample section looking for advice. Reading the good feedback gave me a bit more confidence, so I sent the pages to 2000 AD and I was accepted. My first comic was Il Giornalino, with episodes of Lucky Luke, Ninja Turtles and stories drawn by giants like Sergio Toppi and Ferdinando Tacconi. Then Paperinik’s new adventures, PK. Paperinik is the superhero alias of Donald Duck, created by Disney Italia in 1969 and the series PK was a revelation and a revolution in the italian comics. Aliens, cyberpunk, time travel in Disney stories, with a cast of amazing writers and artists!

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INTERVIEW: Barbara Nosenzo on colouring Halo Jones

2018 sees a 2000 AD classic remastered and in colour for the very first time.

Alan Moore and Ian Gibson began The Ballad of Halo Jones in 1984 and it swiftly became a classic – a feminist soap opera full of nuanced storytelling, and monumental world-building. Over three books, Moore and Gibson followed Halo’s increasingly spectacular life, escaping the ghetto of The Hoop, taking to the stars as a space-liner stewardess aboard the Clara Pandy, and experiencing the horrors of war.

Beginning this May, audiences get to rediscover Halo Jones all over again…

Originally published in black and white, the re-releases will feature extensively remastered artwork and, for the very first time, will be published in colour. Italian newcomer Barbara Nosenzo is responsible for bringing colour to the world of Halo Jones.

The 2000 AD blog’s Richard Bruton sat down with Barbara to talk about what it means to bring colour to a classic…

Richard Bruton: In May, we get to experience the magic of Alan Moore and Ian Gibson’s The Ballad of Halo Jones in a completely new light. Or rather, a completely new palette, as it will be the first time we’ve seen the work in colour. And of course, you’re the artist responsible for providing those all-new colours. How did this project come about?

Barbara Nosenzo: It’s always weird thinking about it, as it was as unexpected as it was wonderful! I was working on a cover for Rebellion (The Complete Journal of Luke Kirby) when I received THAT e-mail from Ben Smith asking me if I was interested on doing test pages for the Halo Jones project… of course I was!!! Who wouldn’t be???

What was your initial response to being asked to bring colour to the work?

BN: HUGE. Halo is a perfect example of black & white balance, and I constantly felt the responsibility of adding colours where there was no need for them!

Were you already aware of Halo Jones, and of Alan Moore and Ian Gibson?

BN: I hadn’t read Halo Jones before getting the job, but I’m a huge fan of Alan Moore, so thinking about ME working on a story written & drawn by such huge artists really made me crazy! From the beginning I put myself under a lot of pressure, because I knew that I was working on a masterpiece, and I wanted to do my very best work on it.

Obviously, The Ballad of Halo Jones was created to be in black and white by Ian Gibson. And although we’ve seen glimpses of what Gibson and Moore imagined her world would look like in colour with various extras, covers, and one off pieces, the addition of colour is something major. How did you approach bringing colour to this black and white world?

BN: While reading the books for the first time, I started imagining atmospheres and details, and tried to put those on paper. I used some covers as reference, and then I worked on my own palette to bring Halo’s world to life. I focused on creating colors for atmosphere, and I decided with my editor (Matt Smith) to choose different background tones for each book, to help define the three different stages of Halo’s life (the Hoop, the Clara Pandy and the War).

Book one has a green, dirty background color to give you a feeling of uselessness and deterioration, that perfectly matches life on Hoop. Book two has a pale yellow tone, because its Clara Pandy time, apparently an age of luxury surrounding Halo. And finally, red tones for book three because it’s all about the war. To obtain these effects, I used background layers, with a wrinkled paper texture turned in three different colours, each one for the specific book I was working on.

I think that colour is like soundtrack in a movie: it should enhance the feelings and underline particular moments. That’s how I tried to use my palette, often using weird colours to define feelings (blue for sadness, green or purple for fear.)

How closely did you work with the editorial team on the colouring work, and how did you deal with the unique problems adding colour to this classic produced?

BN: I’m particularly happy about it, because I had an active role in the creative process, from the beginning (when I suggested different colour styles to choose) through to the end, deciding with Matt atmospheres and palette for the books. Being respectful of Ian Gibson’s black and white artwork obviously created some challenges that I had to solve. Many times I had to create continuity solutions, such as when the floor in one panel becomes the ceiling in the panel next under with no edges to separate them. I solved this problem thinking a lot about the settings (like an interior designer!) so that the colour gradients I used to connect the panels would not look harsh or “out of place”.  I had to decide where it was useful to colour on the black lines and where it was pointless, choosing colours not too bright but also not too dark, adding light effects on a total black line… many times I focused a lot on a little detail, such as a little blood stain, to get the best effect possible but also keeping Gibson’s style.

Going back to your beginnings, where, when, and how did you begin working in comics?

BN: I’ve always drawn and coloured since I was a child, but professionally speaking I started working in comics in 2004, with a small collective of authors named La Compagnia del Fumetto, basically a group of friends who decided to self-publish. We worked together over almost 10 years, and that gave me the opportunity to become more professional. While attending my self-publishing group, I realised that colouring was my true passion. In 2009, I had a portfolio review with Marvel’s talent scout CB Cebulski in Mantova, and he let me know that I could do this professionally. In 2013 I signed my first contract with an Italian publisher, Lo Scarabeo, for whom I produced a couple of Tarot sets, and worked as colourist for ManFont Comics, an Italian small publisher. Finally in 2017 I met the Rebellion guys and started working with them, culminating in Halo Jones.

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INTERVIEW: new creators Laura Bailey and Paul Williams

This week’s 2000 AD Prog 2072 welcomes two new names to the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic – Laura Bailey and Paul Williams are new script and art droids for Sunday Scientist, a new Future Shock tale.

Laura and Paul won the annual art and script talent competitions at the Thought Bubble convention in Leeds, with Laura’s pitch sparking one of the loudest reactions from the audience the script competition has ever had!

Richard Bruton sat down with the new creators to find out how they got here and what it means to be working for the Mighty Tharg….

You’re both in the wonderful position of having your first 2000 AD work appearing in Prog 2072. what can you tell us what your Future Shock and just how you’re feeling about getting into the pages of the Prog?

Laura Bailey: The Future Shock is about a scientist working to create a new Bio-Diesel. Unfortunately her peers get her thrown out of university, so she has to find a way to complete the research by herself. I don’t want to say too much in case I spoil it!

I haven’t told many people about getting my Future Shock published yet because I’ve been a little cautious… not wanting to count my chickens before they hatch! The closer it gets to March 14th the more excited I am and the more I’m starting to believe that a story I’ve written will be in an actual Prog.

Paul Williams: I first decided I wanted to be an artist after Arthur Ranson’s work on Mazeworld in 2000 AD blew me away in the mid-nineties, but that I’d actually appear in its pages myself was always beyond my wildest dreams! It’s a huge honour and means a great deal to me, as a long-time reader. But what excites (and terrifies!) me the most is attempting to give a good account of myself alongside some of the best comic artists around.

Your Future Shock came about after winning the 2017 2000 AD Thought Bubble talent competitions for writing and art. For those who don’t know, can you tell us a little about the process of pitching, and the competition itself? And just how terrifying was it to get up in front of the expert panel?

LB: Writers have a chance to pitch a Future Shock, you can only pitch one story and you have to tell the story in under two minutes in front of the audience and judging panel. I couldn’t allow myself to get too nervous as I was pitching without notes. I practised a lot before hand with my friend Soph, she tested me to make sure I could pitch in under two minutes, then it was important to make sure I wouldn’t crack under pressure. She devised a method to make sure I could do the pitch under any conditions, had to pitch drunk while she heckled me and simultaneously played the Countdown music. The rationale being that if I could pitch under those conditions, I’d be able to do it sober and uninterrupted.

Even after all the preparation, pitching in front of the panel is pretty intense. It could be daunting pitching in front of the pros if you thought about it for long enough, but I tried to think of it as an opportunity to get feedback – at the very least I’d be able to improve my writing.

This is the second time I pitched for 2000 AD, the first story I pitched absolutely sucked, and the feedback was that the ending wasn’t shocking, which was true. It made me more determined to write and the feedback helped me understand what to do the second time round.

PW: The thing I love about the portfolio competition is that it’s a level playing field and contains extremely helpful experiences for an aspiring comic artist. Everyone is given the same script and gets experience of working to a deadline and, even if you don’t get through to the final, you’ll get some initial feedback on the work you submit. If you DO get through to the final then you get more elaborate feedback from a panel of experienced artists, which I imagine would be insightful even as just an audience member.

I’d love to say that I went in there with nerves of steel but the truth is I’d actually chickened out of entering the previous two years, despite completing entries! I’m a massive introvert and the idea of having my work critiqued in front of an audience was, frankly, terrifying. But I decided to go along to the writing pitch first, realised that they have it far worse than we do and was able to come at it with a little more self-confidence.

Like many artists, I’ve a small pile of rejection letters from Tharg. But, in truth, those were half-hearted submissions because I’d always been a bit intimidated by comic work. My background is in educational illustration, in which the client has very specific ideas of what they want your art to look like, but the best comic pages contain a great deal of the artist’s own ideas and concepts and so that feels a lot more vulnerable. Eventually I dedicated a large chunk of time towards improving my technique and storytelling skills in hope of breaking into 2000 AD, which I was fortunate enough to do at Thought Bubble.

What are your first comic reading experiences?

PW: I was a big fan of The Red Dwarf Smegazine, back in the nineties. That was after I graduated from stuff like The Beano towards more “grownup” titles, including 2000 AD. I think I even read a comic based on ITV’s Gladiators gameshow but that’s probably best forgotten!

LB: First comics I read were my Dad’s Viz annuals. My favourite characters were, and still are, the Fat Slags. As a child I didn’t really understand what I was reading but I liked the drawings. These days the reason I like them is because although the characters are extreme, they’re also completely accurate. San and Tray remind me of my mates Soph and Chels.

And when did you first encounter 2000 AD?

LB: Probably a Judge Dredd pinball machine in a pub! Comics wise, it was as a teenager when someone recommended that I should read Judge Dredd. The first thing I purchased was the Henry Flint collection but I remember having to double check with the comic book guy whether Henry Flint was a character, he was not impressed!

PW: A friend brought it into primary school one day. I remember seeing a very menacing Armoured Gideon close-up glaring out from the cover, surrounded by bolts of lightning and thinking “WHAT is THAT?!” before searching out the comic myself and receiving irreversible exposure to Thrill-power.

What artists and writers or particular works have influenced your approach to comics?

PW: I think most of my influences fall more into page design than an approach to inking or characterisation etc. I tend to read the art more than the comics themselves, these days and panel layouts are the first thing I look at. As such, Simon Davis has always been a big influence and some of his compositions over the years are just incredible. I do occasionally over-do it, though, in which case I’ll think “how would Arthur Ranson draw this panel?” as his storytelling is impeccable.

LB: Preacher is my biggest influence; disgusting and really funny. First time I’ve read something that’s made me laugh out loud and cringe audibly, I’d be chuffed if I could get that kind of reaction from something I’ve written. The Ballard of Halo Jones is also a big influence for the same reason I love the Fat Slags.

What comics (or other writing/art) work have you done so far?

LB: For my degree, I wrote a comic called Sister Sabia, about an art student desperate to be famous by any means possible, inspired in part by some of the people at art school. Some of my paintings have been in group exhibitions but I found it quite unsatisfying- not really my kind of thing, comics are a much more natural way for me to express myself.

PW: I’ve done a fair amount of work for FutureQuake and their various titles. Most of my educational illustration has been for the likes of Macmillan, Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press.

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

PW: I’ll be doing my first rounds of conventions later this year, including my first Thought Bubble as an exhibitor. Drawing in front of people and talking to strangers are two things that make me the most uncomfortable so come help me through some exposure therapy!

LB: Currently I’m working on an entry into the Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition; also I hope to write a story for Heavy Metal in the future. I’m very happy to be writing a Galen DeMarco story for the 2000 AD Summer Special but I don’t want to give too much away about it. I just feel really lucky to be part of the First all-female Issue, can’t wait to see who else is in it and what everyone has produced… I have no idea who’s drawing my story but I’m itching to find out.

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INTERVIEW: the return of the exorcist with Ian Edginton and Dave Taylor

Starting this week in Prog 2069 of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, Judge Dredd: Live Evil sees the return of the mysterious Exorcist Judge Lamia – she can see the dead, but what secrets is she hiding?

Buy 2000 AD Prog 2069 in print and digital now >>

The 2000 AD blog’s Richard Bruton sat down to talk to Lamia’s co-creators – Ian Edginton and Dave Taylor – about the exorcist and what they have in store for this unique character…

Richard Bruton: You’ve got a new Judge Dredd series starting in Prog 2069, Live Evil. All we know at this point is that Dredd’s facing an extra-terrestrial threat. So, what’s in store for everyone’s favourite Lawman this time?

Ian Edginton: It’s a kind of locked room, extraterrestrial murder mystery and more. It opens with a spacecraft crash landing in the middle of Mega City 1. It’s returning a team of MC1 xeno- archaeologists but they’re all dead, murdered in their cryo-tanks except for the leaders of the expedition, a married couple who hacked each other to death. That’s just for starters!

You’re bringing back Exorcist Judge Lamia for the Live Evil tale. This is her first appearance since you created her for the four-part High Spirits story back in Progs 1640-1643. It’s been a long time since that first appearance… what took you so long?

IE: Dave and I have wanted to bring Judge Lamia back for a while but it was a matter of getting our schedules to synch’ up. This is new adventure with new aliens but what this and the previous Judge Lamia story are doing is laying the groundwork for her future exploits.

As for Lamia, we know so little about her, yet the tantalising hints from that first story promise so much more. What can we expect from Lamia this time round, more mystery?

IE: She’s a wreck. She can interact with the dead but there are millions of dead MC1 citizens who are drawn to her, angry, confused and looking for help. She can’t deal with it and so has retreated behind the black gates of the Exorcist Judge Tabernacle where these lost souls can’t reach her.

Dredd needs her to work the case of the crashed ship but Lamia’s like a raw nerve, she doesn’t want expose herself to all that grief and pain from the dead citizens. Dredd being Dredd simply tells her if she can’t do the job then she doesn’t get to use the sanctuary of the Tabernacle  so she’ll be back on the street anyway. He’s full of compassion that Joe.

Ironically, being thrown in at the deep end like this also leads to Lamia getting a handle on her abilities and where they come from. At the end of it, she also ends up with a new partner who will help her on her journey to find out who and what she is.

Dave Taylor: Mystery? Oh, for sure. And not just for the reader, but myself included! I purposefully didn’t ask Ian, the writing droid, what she had in store and where she was going because I want my journey to be as close as can be to the reader’s. Much of the magic can be lost when you know how a thing works, and it’s true for comic book creation. There are things in this series that I didn’t expect, details that I think the reader will dig, and things that open our character Lamia to a much broader universe.

It was a memorable introduction of a character, so visually striking; the cape and hood, the ashen face, the dazzling white hair. How did the idea for the character come about?

IE: I’d had the idea floating about for a while. I wondered about all the millions who had died in MC1, from the various wars, plagues, victims of crime, the judged, etc.  If they hadn’t ‘passed over’ or found some kind of peace, they’d still be there, unseen for the most part. They’d also be witnesses to all the crimes that were going on, so for a Judge, being able to talk to the dead would come in handy but of course the downside is the dead are not always reliable. For them being trapped in MC1 is pretty much like Hell.

Judge Lamia was pursuing some perp’s and had run them to ground on an alien world when she was killed. She was resurrected by (as yet) unknown forces with the ability to interact with the dead. In Live Evil she learns that she’s in fact a Death Herder, it’s her job to shepherd lost souls to the other side. That also means she has to resolve why and how they were killed first.

Dave, what were your thoughts behind the striking design of Lamia?

DT: She needed to look recognizably attached to the Judges yet somehow distant. The cape was that key for me. At first I thought Ian, the writing droid, had blown a fuse. “A cape?!! This is madness!” But after drawing a few sketches I realized it was me who was mad for doubting it.

As she’s very much involved with the after life, a place not commonly recognized as colourful, she needed to be as colourless as possible, thus her monotone uniform. She’s dark inside, so that needed to be reflected on the outside.

Dave, you have a very striking visual style, one that stands out in 2000 AD, very European in look, lots of Moebius in there. But I know it hasn’t always been that way. Can you give us a quick idea of those important influences in your artwork?

DT: My first major artistic influence was a guy by the name of Giles, a British newspaper cartoonist from the mid ’40’s til the late ’80s. His work inspired my fascination with characterizing real life in a gritty, realistic yet twisted and humorous way. He drew with a freedom that I still long for. As for Mr Moebius (Jean Giraud)…well, let’s just say, in his words, that “we are cosmic brothers”. He drew a universe that really exists, yet seems too fantastical to the majority of humans. A few of us (an ever growing number seemingly) are linked as he was to this other dimension. It may have something to do with the acid all art students are forced to take in art school.

Dave, over the course of your career, you’ve worked for Marvel and DC, including the most recent work with Chip Kidd, 2012’s Batman: Death By Design. But unusually for a British artist, your first work for 2000 AD didn’t come until 2004 on Dredd, some 13 years after your professional debut. How did this somewhat unusual career path come about?

DT: 2000 AD was the first, and therefore most important, publication I wanted to do work for. It had never occurred to me to be a pro artist until I was a fan of the work of the Mighty Tharg and his minions. I was into a lot of stuff but 2000 AD held my attention week after week and made me wonder what life might be like as an art droid. My first ever submission was to Tharg, who promptly shot me down in flames saying “it’s too American, and where are the backgrounds?” Naturally this hurt, but I took his words, twisted them, and thought to myself “if it’s too American then maybe I should work for the Americans!” I submitted work to Marvel UK and that was that. It was only after I’d had a pretty successful career as an American comics artist that, after a number of years off ill, I decided to offer myself up to Tharg. I am now a happy art droid.

How do you both find working at 2000 AD compared with Marvel and DC? Is there more freedom to be different and more creative at 2000 AD?

DT: Working for 2000 AD is vastly different from working for the “big two”. I can’t go into why with much depth because I’m full of comic pro horror stories about working with this monster we call The American Comic Book Industry, and I don’t want to wake up one morning with the head of a horse in my bed…suffice to say that Tharg, though mighty, distant, aloof, quietly threatening and GREEN is a joy to work for because he recognizes the huge importance of letting creative folk (droids) do what they do best…create.

IE: Absolutely. So long as it has a good strong story, the door’s always open whether it’s horror, science fiction, fantasy, you name it. Trying to place similar stories with US publishers can often be such an uphill struggle.

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INTERVIEW: monkey business with Arthur Wyatt and Jake Lynch

It’s time to go ape once more as this month’s Judge Dredd Megazine brings you the continuing adventures of Harry Heston!

Co-created by late superfan Stewart Perkins, the Ape Judge returns for more monkey business with Judge Dredd in the four-part Krong Island, penned by writer Arthur Wyatt with Harry’s co-creator Jake Lynch back on art duties.

Richard Bruton sat down to talk Dredd, Harry, and all things gloriously gorilla with the pair. 

Harry Heston came into being back in 1999. Created by Stuart Perkins and Jake Lynch for the Class of ’79 Judge Dredd fanzine, this genetically modified gorilla was an “uplift” with a penchant for reading and a love of justice, thanks to Judge Dredd’s inspirational text, “The Comportment Of A Judge”.  Harry made his first official “canon” appearance in Megazine #376.

Arthur, Jake, can you give us a quick recap of the fascinating history of Harry Heston, the gorilla-judge of MC1?

JL: Regarding his Class of ’79 days, he was created as our ‘Judge Dredd’ – a flagship character for a fanzine with ideas above its station. We figured that an ape programmed with ‘Dredd’s Comportment’ would be a fun thing to read, with endless possibilities for parody. His first story was a field test for the Justice Department’s latest experiment in crime fighting. The second story was Harry being kitted out, given a Lawtrike (because all monkeys ride tricycles!) and accompanied by a modified Spy-In-Sky camera, ‘Asimov’. Both episodes were brilliantly illustrated by Henry Flint and, in my opinion, still hold up well, mainly due to this fact – thanks Henry.

AW: Fast forward to Monkey Business in Megazine #376. We brought Harry Heston out of the small press and into mainstream canon, or at least a slightly different version of him. Tharg didn’t think Justice Department would have an Ape Judge so we worked around that by making him a Judge Impersonator, one that worshiped Dredd but that would ultimately clash with him, resulting in him going to the cubes. 

JL: Being that Harry was born in a fanzine, the idea of him becoming a ‘JIMP’ when he crossed over seemed like a great switch. It also allowed Arthur to really flesh him out with far more character than I could have hoped for – part Dredd, part Boy Scout, ALL ape!

AW: We had Heston out on a Cursed Earth work crew, working under some particularly nasty cube Judges. When muties raid the work camp he gets a chance to escape but instead saves a nearby town from escaped prisoners. Dredd turns up and is impressed, and at the end Hershey calls him and asks if Heston might be suitable for a special duty… and that brings us up to Krong Island!

Harry’s co-creator, Stuart Perkins, writing as WR Logan, was a lifelong Dredd fan. He worked for 2000 AD at the comic’s archives and served as an advisor to John Wagner on all things Judge Dredd. Indeed, that collaboration was repaid by Wagner with the creation of Judge Logan in various Dredd strips. Stewart’s dream was for Harry to get into official 2000 AD canon, and that dream came true in Megazine #376. Sadly, although Stewart knew of the upcoming strip, he passed away unexpectedly in May 2016, before its publication. How pleasing is it for you to be able to be bringing back Stewart’s creation?

JL: When we came up with him, we knew he was a funny character with a lot of potential and I was always miffed that he had such a short original run. Since Arthur’s taken over he has given him a quality that we never would have thought of – heart. I truly believe that Stew would be very happy and proud to know how fondly our silly chimp-face has been received.

AW: Heston has been a joy to write. He was a favourite of mine from the comic and then the mainstream version has developed his own character and his own arc almost organically. I think we’ve been able to honour Stewart and give Harry his own distinct existence.

Can you let us know about Harry Heston’s return to the Megazine in the four-part Krong Island is and how he fits into the tale?

AW: We first heard about Krong back in 2099, in Dredd’s timeline, at a time when movies featuring giant live action robots had been driven out of business in favour of some dumb thing called “sensor-round”. Clearly there would be a revival at some point, and so you have Krong Island, a purpose built island to make the rebooted Krong movies on, and those were big for a while before public interest was lost again. But mostly now they just farm bananas there. It’s a very profitable business, growing bananas in a word where there’s a large population of uplifted apes.

JL: Krong Island also really opens up Harry’s world. It’s a far larger playground to monkey around in with a story to match.

Krong Island obviously brings to mind a certain other, rather bigger, ape. Are we going to be seeing Harry meet any of the famous residents of Skull Island in Krong Island?

AW: All similarities between Krong and other, more famous apes that have islands are almost entirely coincidental. Really, that Island is 99% banana plantations anyway. Are there larger mysteries and strange horrors afoot? Well, maybe, but that’s any island!

Looking back at Class of ’79 and its two issues, it’s no surprise to see some familiar names in the pages; PJ Holden, Rufus Dayglo, Henry Flint, John Hicklenton, Boo Cook, and Jake and Stewart of course.  There’s always been an fanzine movement of comic writers and artists creating strips in homage to their favourite characters. Class of ’79 was possibly the first, but it continues to this day with the Zarjaz and Dogbreath fanzines. How important do you consider Class of ’79 and the whole unofficial fanzine movement to be?

JL: I’m not too sure about this, but I think ’79 was the first. We were very lucky at the time, Andy Diggle was Assistant Editor and was in full support of us, providing info on how to move forward and blurb for the legal bit. I think fanzines offer contributors experience and are a nursery ground for future professionals. I’m aware that ’79 seemed to have a very high ‘crossover’ rate for its contributors, but I think that was due to a lot of talented people finally having an outlet for their work.  So are fanzines important? You better believe it, punk!

AW: I was part of the generation of fanzine makers that came along after Class of ‘79 and it was hugely influential in terms of giving an idea of what could be done. Also since it was such a mix of fans, creators and fans that went on to become creators for 2000 AD. I think a few FutureQuake readers and creators have gone on to be droids now, so the cycle continues!

What are your first memories of 2000 AD, whether that’s characters, strips, or writers/artists?

AW: The 1981 Judge Dredd annual, which had some shockingly good McMahon strips, and the 2000 AD monthlies. Glad that’s a tradition that is kind of sort of returning with the ultimate collection. I have strong memories of reading Sláine, The V.C.s and D.R. and Quinch that way.

JL: Yeah, McMahon is incredible. It’s so wonderful being able to see the different periods of an artist style. My young memories of 2000 AD all sort of blur together. It was the energy of it, the pulsing Thrill-power. I think a great deal of that came from John Wagner, Alan Grant and, of course, Pat Mills. It exposed me to different ideas and showed me that the best creators aim for realities, not necessarily realism. It was my weekly thrill and I looked forward to every Saturday when my dad would go and pick it up. Oh, and that Alan Moore was a bit good wasn’t he!?

What about a dream 2000 AD job?

AW: Not really sure. I really should do my own big space epic sometime or something, since I’ve done a lot of noodling around in the Judge Dredd world and gotten a Rogue Trooper-related strip under my belt.

JL: Drawing Judge Dredd IS my dream job! I’d quite like a go at Ro-Busters, but would like it to be short run and stripped down to its core – a punchy little rescue mission or something.

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INTERVIEW: Rory McConville on Cursed Earth Koburn

He’s a sarcastic maverick who enjoys his booze, cigars, and when he’s not out dispensing justice, Cursed Earth-style, you can usually find him in some house of ill-repute or other. Yep, it’s a welcome return to the pages of the Judge Dredd Megazine for Judge Dredd’s least favourite lawman, Judge-Marshall Koburn.

Relative newcomer to the world of Dredd, Rory McConville joins Koburn’s co-creator, the legendary Carlos Ezquerra in a new 5-part series, The Law Of The Cursed Earth, starting in the latest Judge Dredd Megazine.

Time to carry on Koburn, as Richard Bruton sits down with Rory and Carlos to find out whether everyone’s favourite Cursed Earth Judge-Marshall and Judge Dredd have kissed and made up yet.

With this new Koburn series, we’re back in the Cursed Earth with Judge-Marshall Koburn having troubles with one of his fellow Judge-Marshalls. Can you give us all an idea of what we have to look forward to in the story?

Rory McConville: Not wanting to give too much away but our story opens with Koburn and Alonso, Koburn’s new partner, arriving outside the residence of Judge-Marshall Boyle, to help him investigate a local village massacre. Nothing’s ever simple in the Cursed Earth though and pretty soon Koburn finds himself embroiled in an anti-mutant conspiracy.

Longer time readers will remember Koburn’s previous partner Bonaventura returned to the Meg after one of the previous series. Rico guest-starred in the most recent story, but I thought it would be good to pair him with someone new. Readers will learn more about Alonso’s background as the story progresses but we’re not treating this as an origin story.  We hit the ground running with them on their way to investigate Boyle’s request for aid.

Our other major new character is Judge-Marshall Boyle, a gravely former Judge who lives out in the middle of nowhere. He’s a cantankerous old grouch. Physically, he’s nothing like Dredd but I like to think the friction between him and Koburn makes Dredd and Koburn almost seem like best friends.

Since his creation by Gordon Rennie and Carlos Ezquerra, the exploits of Judge-Marshall Koburn have been firm favourites with readers. What is it that makes him such a fan-favourite?

RM: He’s a great foil for the more uptight Mega-City One Judges, but he’s still able to get the job done. He just has his own way of doing things. I think that flexibility with the Law and willingness to enjoy life a bit more also enables readers to connect with him a bit more than the average Judge.

How much fun is Koburn to write? Whenever he appears it seems writers love having a Judge with a sarcastic, maverick tone.

RM: Coburn’s great to write for. The one-liners are a lot of fun — it’s all about finding the right characters and situations to pair him with.

Since winning the Thought Bubble 2000 AD Writing Pitch competition in 2015, you’ve had several Future Shocks, Time Twisters, Tales From The Black Museum, the 3riller Mindmine and a couple of Dredd strips published. More recently you were the first writer apart from creator John Smith to tackle the vampire dandy Devlin Waugh. Now you’re back in the Megazine with Cursed Earth Koburn, with art from the legendary Carlos Ezquerra. So, have you stopped pinching yourself yet?

RM: Not even a little bit. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to get to work on so many of major 2000 AD characters (and work with some of the industry’s best artists) in such a short time. I actually wrote Law of the Cursed Earth before any of the Devlin or Dredd storylines so to have one of my first Dreddverse stories be a series with an artist of Carlos’ calibre is incredible.

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INTERVIEW: Dan Abnett on Grey Area, aliens, immigration and satire

Welcome to the Global Exo Segregation Zone, Earth’s staging post to process countless species of extraterrestrial immigrants looking to visit. And tasked with policing this shanty town holding area, there’s the Exo Transfer Control Squads. Captain Adam Bulliet and his squad have the near impossible task of processing, investigating alien crimes, and keeping the lid on this explosive situation. This is classic 2000 AD sci-fi, mirroring our times, focusing on the very prescient topics of immigration, discrimination, and prejudice.

With the first Grey Area collection out this month, Richard Bruton took a trip to the Global Exo Segregation Zone and presented his papers to writer Dan Abnett…

Richard Bruton: With the first Grey Area collection, This Island Earth, out this month, can you give readers old and new an idea of the premise of the tale and what to expect here in this first collection?

Dan: It’s a series set in the near future, about a decade after Earth has experienced a disastrous first contact event called The Greet. To make sure nothing so damaging ever happens again, Earth patrols its borders with extreme caution, and any visiting alien is obliged to pass through the Grey Area, a handling area for extraterrestrial visitors. The story follows the work lives of officers attached to the ETC, the “border police”, whose job it is to keep the peace and solve problems – sometimes exotic – in Grey Area.

RB: As with much of the best work in 2000 AD and sci-fi in general, there’s a sense in Grey Area that this is very much social commentary as it is a rollicking sci-fi tale. And in this world of Trump and Brexit  your take on immigration, discrimination, xenophobia seems more and more topical. Over the course of the series, have you been tempted to get even more topical, reflecting the horrors we see around us today?

Dan: Too often. The series began before many of these things were really hot topics, though clearly the issues have been in the gestalt for a long time and influenced the concept. At the start, I didn’t feel I was ripping my ideas from the front pages, more that I was nodding in the direction of issues that were generally current. But inevitably, these things have become far more emphatic. If there’s satire or commentary in the series, it’s harder to pull off now that the target – or subject – is so obvious. I find myself trying to find different angles, so I’m not ‘on the nose’. It’s become tricky, because a lot of the more obvious and robust storylines I could have done – or thought of doing – would simply seem like clumsy assaults on topics like Trump and Brexit. I suppose the series started out as ‘topical adjacent’, and now has been overtaken by world events, and I work to find a path back to that adjacent place. It wasn’t meant to be a soapbox or corrective, and no one enjoys a blunt message.

RB: There’s a wonderful sense of tongues somewhat in cheeks throughout, with a delightful gallows humour and plenty of snark in the dialogue, or the ridiculousness of some of the situations (I’m thinking of Bulliett drawing the very short straw for an alien cavity search). But more than this, there’s also a sense of playing with the clichés of the genre, knowing that you were going to tread familiar ground and the fun comes from playing with expectations?

Dan: I think that’s all about the adjacent space thing I was talking about. Without the snark undercutting it, it would be a polemic. There’s no reason the characters can’t be as nuanced, or as cynical, as us. They’re supposed to have lived through the same experiences as we have. To me the humour and the characterisation (and the regular bursts of ridiculousness) keep the strip vital.

RB: This collection, as you mention in the introduction, is very much a Grey Area Year One. As such there’s a tremendous amount of world-building going on around the relatively self-contained “case of the week” stories. But things in the later stages of the collection begin to include more and more characterisation and introduces more story elements that serve to set up the epic tale that is to come. Back in 2012, with the start of the series, did you have an idea of where you’d be taking the story, or was it more a case or developing it as you wrote?

Dan: Not as such. The series was conceived as a vehicle for the original artist, Karl Richardson, who basically wanted to draw big aliens and armoured humans (and draw them very well he did). The situation of the strip became a format to allow us to do that as much as possible. So we started with a lot of these ‘case of the week stories’. Complex world building was inevitable, and once you’ve done that – to keep the ‘case of the week’ stories interesting – you see potential for longer and bigger stories that explore the world you’ve begun to build. I certainly didn’t foresee doing the real epics we get to later, but once I’d got there it seemed foolish not to do them.

I suppose the ‘opening out’ of the story and the scale really happened when Mark Harrison came on board as regular artist. I love his work, and we’d worked together before very successfully on Durham Red. Mark is great with character stuff, so we could continue doing that, but he’s an insanely gifted conceptual thinker and, in conversation, our plans and ideas just got bigger and bigger. It’s an approach I like to use: to ask an artist what he or she is interested in doing and then try to accommodate that as much as possible. That doesn’t mean asking the artist to do all the leg-work and idea-bashing for me…. I just think you get the best work in the end from someone who is really enjoying what they’re doing.

RB: Seeing as this collection is year one, and the whole premise of Grey Area comes from the disastrous first contact 25+ years ago, have you ever thought about going back and doing something akin to a Grey Area year zero?

Dan: No, but I have now 🙂

RB: In terms of artists, this collection features three very different styles from Karl Richardson, Lee Carter, and Patrick Goddard. What do you feel each subsequent artist has brought to your stories?

Dan: Yes, this volume is all the ‘pre-Mark” stuff, and though I’ve just praised Mark highly (and will continue to do so), there’s terrific work here. Karl really set the scene, as the original visual concept artist, and his stuff is dynamic, cinematic and very robust. Lee’s work is haunting and creepily alien, which very much suited the main story we were doing, and Patrick is, in my opinion, very underrated. His attention to detail and storytelling is fantastic. I confess I came back to this early period after working with Mark for a long time thinking it would be embryonic, the series finding its feet before Mark came in and blew the doors off, but my memory was faulty and I was doing these three artists a great disservice. I read through this first volume as the collection came together and was taken aback at how strong it was. It’s a terrific ‘first season’ and the artists shine throughout.

RB: As I was rereading Grey Area in this collection I was struck by how much potential it has for being a fabulous TV show. Years ago this would have been unthinkable, with budgets way out of reach. But nowadays, with ever more ambitious TV shows, there wouldn’t be a problem. Any takers so far? Would it be something you’d think could work?

Dan: Nothing I know of so far, but the thought had occurred to me. It’s got all the key ingredients and – as we said – it’s just a little bit topical.

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INTERVIEW: Peter Milligan and Rufus Dayglo on Bad Company

After the stunning events of Bad Company: First Casualties, we’re returning to the baddest of the bad, with a new Bad Company series beginning in the bumper Christmas issue of 2000 AD – Prog 2061.

Bad Company: Terrorists takes this latest motley crew of misfits on a search for evidence to prove to the world that things aren’t as they seemed.

Richard Bruton sat down with writer Peter Milligan and artist Rufus Dayglo to chat all things Bad Company.

When we left Bad Company at the end of First Casualties, their lives had pretty much been turned upside down and there were questions aplenty over just what the hell they’d been fighting for (and against) all these years. The new series, Bad Company: Terrorists, implies heavily that the Company is now on the wrong side of the law once more and will be fighting not only the Krool but their own masters. Can you give us a quick idea of what we’ve got to look forward to with this new series?

Peter Milligan: In some ways this can be seen as a sequel or part two to First Casualties. In FC Danny Franks and Bad Company failed to convince the world about the true reasons for the Ararat war. Here they attempt to get some proof, and this will entail them travelling through a grim, dangerous, and sometimes surreal world city in search of a mad ex-Ararat Colonel who might hold the key to their problem. Against them is a determine world security leader who has his own reasons for destroying Bad Company and getting to the Colonel first.

Rufus Dayglo: Bad Company – Terrorists follows on from the end of the First Casualties series with Bad Co. on the run! Terrorists explores how the justifications for war is sold to us by governments…. And the return of an old friend!

Are we sticking with the core characters left following First Casualties or will we see new characters introduced?

RD: At the end of First Casualties, we assembled a new Bad Company, with Golgotha Joe (their imaginary friend, who can split and multiply himself), and Malarkey, their erstwhile Doctor/therapist. Another familiar face will turn up too!

PM: We’ll also meet up with an old favorite character from the original storyline. This will have a big effect on Danny.

Bad Company has always taken a long, honest look at warfare, never shying away from its horrors and always avoiding any glorification. In First Casualties, you took the series into unexpected territory, dealing with issues of survivor guilt, PTSD, and difficulties with returning to life in peacetime. You also explored the questions of modern warfare, whether conflict is ever justified, and how the victims of war are often treated as mere pawns in a greater political game by the masters in charge. What issues are you going to be exploring in this new series of Bad Company?

PM: Before I wrote the last series – First Casualties – I’d told myself I’d only write more Bad Company if I felt I had something new to say. That was true with First Casualities, taking if you like a post Iraq/Weapons of Mass Destruction look at the Ararat War. The same holds true with Bad Company: Terrorists, Bad Company are on the wrong side of the law and we explore the very contemporary debate about the need for freedom versus the need for security. The overriding theme of the story continues to be the search for truth in a world that’s still traumatized by the horrors of the Ararat war.

RD: We are now living in a new Cold War, where world war is being played out in proxy wars… just as it was in Korea and Vietnam (amongst others.) We want to explore how having been painted as war heroes by the powers that be, they can equally be turned back into monsters. This is what 2000 AD does best, combining sci-fi, politics, and satire.

Peter, Over the long history of the strip, the three main creators involved have been yourself, the late Brett Ewins, and Jim McCarthy providing his atmospheric inks and stunning blacks over Brett’s innovative and unique pencils. Will Jim be joining you once more?

PM: Jim did a great job on First Casualties but for strictly practical reasons Rufus is taking care of both the pencilling and inking for this mission. I still feel there is some continuity with the art, as Rufus had a close relationship with Brett and really gets the story.

RD: I will be inking my own work this time, and we are joined by our friend Dominic Regan to do colouring. Dom and I worked on Counterfeit Girl last year with Peter for 2000 AD. I always loved the colour Bad Company story from the 2000 AD annual back in the ’80s, so Peter, Dom and I have gone full out creating a new psychotropic Bad Company series!

Bad Company will forever be remembered for the stunningly original artwork of Brett Ewins. His loss back in 2015 was felt throughout the industry. Rufus, I know you and Brett were close. When thinking of returning to Bad Company with First Casualties, and this new series, was it important to all involved to feel that Brett, although not able to contribute artwork, was in some way still connected to the series?

RD: It’s hugely important to me. Brett’s work was hugely influential to me. It is so much fun carrying on this series. Brett was thrilled we were doing Bad Company again, and I hope he would be happy with what we are doing. Before we started First Casualties, I talked to Brett a lot about Bad Company. He wanted his characters to continue. We wanted it to feel fresh this time, and with the addition of Dominic Regan, I think we have added a whole new dimension to the series.

In First Casualties, the character of Golgotha Joe, a troubled soul with a good heart, bore a strong resemblance to Brett. It was a heart warming touch, presumably from Rufus?

RD: Golgotha Joe is a full member of Bad Company, and sees a lot of action in the new series! I designed him to look like Brett, as I thought he would like to be there, in the thick of it. I even gave him crepe soled boots, as Brett loved his brothel creepers.

PM: I know that Rufus based Joe on Brett. I think this is great, and reveals how much Brett meant to Rufus. Of course it means that if I ever kill Joe off it’ll break Rufus’ heart and he’ll probably send hit men after me!

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INTERVIEW: welcome to The House of Gilded Peak with Eddie Robson and Steven Austin

The latest Tharg’s 3Riller in Prog 2058 delivers three episodes of Elizabethan escapades in The House of Gilded Peak.

This period heist with a magical twist sees the dubious Knight Sir Aranchet of Osterberg get an offer he can’t refuse from the mysterious female crook Tris. What secrets will they uncover in the magical mansion and can they get away with the crime of the 17th Century?

Richard Bruton pulled up a stool in the local tavern, poured writer Eddie Robson and artist Steven Austin a draft of ale, and started asking questions. Welcome to The House of Gilded Peak….

Your Tharg’s 3Riller The House Of Gilded Peak begins in Prog 2058, out on the22nd November. Can you give us all a quick idea of what to expect from the tale?

Eddie Robson: It’s set in a fantasy world where a rich family’s house vanished several years ago. A thief called Tris knows it’s not gone, just hidden – and she has a plan to rob it.

Eddie, you’re becoming something of a go to 3Riller writer now, with six to your name, including this new one. How do you find the particular mechanics of these 3Rillers, with just three five-page episodes to deliver beginning, middle and end of the tale?

ER: You can pack a lot into one of these. I find them a good home for ideas that otherwise wouldn’t have a home. I work in several different media and the ideas I channel into 3rillers tend to be ones where the story plays out nicely in a short space. To me they feel like movies, but ones where if you filmed them they’d only be about half an hour long. And of course it can have the visual scale of a movie. Having said that, I did originally pitch this as a series, with Tris and her gang getting involved in a series of heists, and an ongoing plot running through that. But Tharg decided he’d just like to see a single story play out with these characters.

This new 3Riller is a fantasy heist set in the city of Emporarius, with magic rampant in an Elizabethan-esque setting. But from the very first panel, there’s obviously something more magical or fantastical going on. Any particular reason for the setting?

Steven Austin: Eddie made it clear in the script that this was a city ‘like’ 17th Century London but with a populous as vast as it is today and different!! Based upon this it needed some elements within it that broke away from ‘reality’ of life in 17th Century London. Initially I suggested to Eddie that perhaps we could have some technological elements which Eddie went along with as long as tech was more steampunkesque so as keeping with a magical vibe.

Your two main characters are the knight of dubious background; Sir Aranchet of Osterberg and the mysterious female crook Tris. It’s Tris’ plan to get into and rob the hidden House of Gilded Peak, setting up the heist element of the tale. Was it always planned as a heist story?

ER: I can very clearly explain where the idea came from: I was reading The Hobbit to my eldest son, having never read it before or seen any version of it. At the beginning, when they come to bring Bilbo into the group, it feels like they’re putting together a team for a heist and I thought what a cool idea that was, I’d never seen a heist story in a fantasy world before… and then most of the book is taken up with more traditional quest-type stuff. I was a bit disappointed the theft itself is only a small part of the story, because I love heist stories. So I thought, why don’t I write a heist set in a fantasy world then? I wanted to make it clearly different from The Hobbit, so instead of a medieval-styled fantasy world I decided to have a 17th century-styled one: a world with lots of social conventions and aristocratic families seemed a good place to set a heist, with the crooks trying to infiltrate that world. And I definitely wanted to have magic in it, because that played really well into the idea of a heist crew having different skills, all of which are needed for the heist to come off.

One thing I did particularly appreciate here was how quickly you and Steven managed to establish the world, the background, the essence of the story you’re telling. There’s a definite storytelling and visual shorthand used through the five pages, how important is getting the mix right of this shorthand versus the story?

ER: I worry about it quite a lot, because you don’t have a lot of space and you want everything to come across clearly. You have to use a lot of jumps in time and space to compress the story, and you have to make sure those don’t jar. In these short stories you end up drawing on archetypes a lot, I think – certainly I did in this. Situations and characters that are familiar from other fictions – and of course you want to put a new spin on them, otherwise it’s just something we’ve all seen before. But you have very little time to introduce characters and you want their role in the story to be clear from the outset.

Eddie, you’ve a very diverse writing CV, taking in radio, sketch writing, TV, audio drama, comics, fiction and non-fiction prose. How is writing for comics different?

ER: A lot of storytelling is the same in any medium. You have to think of the different audiences though. Writing for comics is different in terms of subject matter – in most other fields SF and fantasy is a hard sell and viewed as niche, whereas in comics it’s the exact opposite. I like how it’s collaborative, but within a quite small, manageable group of people – it’s neither as solitary as prose nor as big as TV. Above all I think the most distinctive thing about comics writing is how you work in clear, definable units. You work in panels, pages, issues – which can pose its own challenges, and be annoying at times, but it’s like an enjoyable puzzle and when it slots together it’s extra satisfying.

Steven, this is your third piece in 2000 AD, with a Time Twister and Future Shock already under your belt. As a relatively new artist, what advice do you have for any prospective artists looking to get their work seen? And how pleasing is it to be in the pages of 2000 AD once more?

SA: Being in the Prog is always amazing and slightly surreal. Also it’s daunting as I’m someone who when I revisit my work only ever sees mistakes or if not mistakes question the way I have drawn particular panels and then to make matters worse the work is obviously then published in the Prog and sandwiched between two other flawless artists. I think my last Future Shock was straight after The Order painted by John Burn and before Simon Davis’ Sláine. I always try and do something within a story that takes me out of my comfort zone. This is something that I would suggest all artists try, it’s very easy to get into the habit of drawing what you know you can draw, instead strive to do stuff you find hard. Carry this through into working for small press where you can. I’ve drawn for numerous titles including Zarjaz, Future Quake and the Psychedelic Journal of Time Travel. It was actually a story I drew for Zarjaz entitled Cal’s Arena that I submitted to Tharg that led to my first gig, this was following four other submissions and rejections using the sample scripts from the 2000 AD website. Anyone submitting needs a thick skin, perseverance and to listen and act upon any feedback given by the editor. Every time I received a rejection I would scream ‘AAARGGGHHH NEVER AGAIN’!! Then, a few days later I’d start on my next submission.

How did you both first get into comics?

ER: Writing strips for Doctor Who Adventures, which I got because via my other Doctor Who spinoff work.

SA: As far as drawing comics, it’s something I always dreamed of doing. I had no idea how to go about it so ended up moving away from the idea, still always drawing but just for fun. A few years ago my wife and I moved and I got a new job as a community business manager at a school. I hated the job, and after three years was looking at giving it up and working as a freelance storyboard artist and illustrator but was hesitating. However one evening I was covering a shift and the local badminton club were in playing. I was having a chat with one of the players and he mentioned something about one of their players being ‘sort’ of famous, my ears pricked up and I asked what sort of stuff this chap did and he said comics. I was intrigued and asked his name to which he replied Brian Bolland. I had to hold onto my desk as my legs gave a little!! Needless to say I introduced myself to Brian, trying not to sound like a fan-boy but failing miserably, and over the following weeks/months he would very kindly have a look at my work and give feedback and encouragement. I think this was the turning point where I decided to chuck the job in and just go for. Meeting Brian certainly reignited a passion I had long forgotten.

Who are your biggest influences?

ER: Oh, loads of people. Angela Carter, Paul Auster, the Coen brothers, Daniel Clowes, Douglas Adams, Hiyao Miyazaki, Rik Mayall, Jed Mercurio. This particular story was influenced by Jane Eyre – I’d recently read Dame Darcy’s illustrated edition – and The Castle of Otranto.

SA: I always say an artist’s style is a culmination of failed attempts to draw like ones idols and so based upon this my work looks like ‘none’ of my influences. Top of my list of 2000 AD artists would be Brian Bolland, Cam Kennedy and Steve Dillon.

What are your first memories of 2000 AD, whether that’s characters or strips?

ER: I think my first ones were those dodgy US-format reprints of Dredd strips from about 1990, which looked quite bad but I loved them. I fondly remember a reprint of You Bet Your Life, an early Wagner/Gibson strip.

SA: The first Prog I ever bought was issue 277, it was the fungus story from Judge Dredd, I’d just turned 10 and I remember the fact that there were so many stories within one comic and the fact the artwork was so different really hooked me.

What about a dream 2000 AD job?

ER: Writing the remaining books of Halo Jones. Although it wouldn’t be a dream really because everyone would hate me for doing it, so it would be awful. But I can’t think of anything I’d like to write more than that.

SA: I think anyone who wants to draw for the Prog wants to draw Dredd, and I’m no different. Also eventually I would love to have a bash at a cover.

You can read the first episode of the three part 3Riller The House of Gilded Peak in Prog 2058, in all good newsagents and comic shops now!