The Battle Action Special is out right now, featuring seven brand new stories written by Garth Ennis – the mind behind The Boys, Preacher, and war comics such as The Stringbags and Sara – the 96-page hardcover anthology captures the spirit and action of the merger of the groundbreaking Battle and Action comics in the 1970s.
Behind the cover by Andy Clarke and Dylan Teague (and a web-exclusive cover version from John Higgins), Ennis is joined by artists Mike Dorey (Ro-Busters), John Higgins (Watchmen), Keith Burns (Ladybird Expert series), PJ Holden (The Stringbags), Patrick Goddard (Judge Dredd), Chris Burnham (Batman) and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen artist Kevin O’Neill.
The new Battle Action Special celebrates both Battle Picture Weekly and Action, one of Brit Comics’ most infamous comic anthologies, the precursor to 2000 AD, packed with cutting-edge strips, violent and hard-hitting, something that would later lead to Action’s downfall once the Brit tabloid press, bless ’em, caught wind of the violent nature of what the kids were reading – and loving.
For the release, we sat down to chat to Garth Ennis, writer of all the strips in the Special, to talk about the lasting influence of Battle Action and what it means to him to be bringing the title back here in the Battle Action Special.
Garth, this year has been something of a passion project year for you – and we’re only halfway through it! First there was Hawk The Slayer with Henry Flint and now there’s this all-new Battle Action Special, packed full of stories written by you and drawn by a bevy of rather excellent artists, all bringing back some of the classic strips from both Battle Picture Weekly and the infamous Action.
I suppose the best way to begin is to ask you what the Battle Action Special is all about and what it means to you to be marshaling it into existence?
GARTH ENNIS: I pitched the special to Rebellion. I’d enjoyed writing for the Battle (of Britain) and Action specials in 2020, and me writing the whole thing seemed the easiest way to get something else going in the same vein.
As the special came together, I realized it was an excellent opportunity to celebrate the best and most creative period in Battle’s history, as well as the work of the guys who made it so: Tom Tully, Gerry Finley-Day, Alan Hebden, Eric Bradbury, Joe Colquhoun, John Cooper, Mike Dorey, Mike Western, many more.
One fascinating strip in here, very different from all around it, is Kids Rule OK!, the strip that directly led to Action‘s cancellation, it’s subsequent toning down, and the later merging with Battle to give us the Battle Action comic.
From what I’ve seen already, it’s part continuation of Kids Rule Ok! and part a commentary on the events that led to the media outcry and what happened after it, focusing on the infamous Aggro! cover by Carlos Ezquerra.
Whilst the original was written by Jack Adrian with art by Mike White, this new version sees you partnering with the legendary (and man whose retirement from comics seems wonderfully misreported) Kevin O’Neill.
Did you have a hand in getting Kevin onto the strip or was that from Rebellion?
GE: I hadn’t heard that Kevin had retired until [editor] Oliver Pickles told me so, and in fact it turned out not to be the case. You have Oliver to thank for asking Kevin- and bloody well done that man.
Absolutely fantastic work from one of the true masters- and a treat for me, having had my mind melted by Nemesis, Ro-Busters, Metalzoic and the rest all those years ago.
How did you go about picking which of the various strips from Action and Battle made it into here? Was it a case of personal preference or was there also the desire to bring back some of what are now seen as the most important and influential strips?
GE: I thought it should be a mixture of the better and less known, and of the finest from both Battle and Action– with the strips from the latter being the ones that made it over to Battle in the merger. Johnny Red was an obvious choice, my favourite Battle strip and the subject of the revival Keith Burns and I did a few years back. The Sarge is one I was always fond of; I learned a lot from Gerry Finley-Day’s handling of group dynamics in that strip. Crazy Keller is an unsung hero and another favourite, Alan Hebden’s second (and in my opinion more successful) go at an archetype he first explored with Major Eazy.
GE: Dredger was too much fun not to do, he’s probably the biggest bastard in either comic. Hellman was a no-brainer, the strip from Action that was made for Battle – original co-creator Mike Dorey being available was the icing on the cake, particularly after the Hellman story we did for the Action special in 2020. Kids Rule OK is the exception, for the reasons you mentioned earlier. And as probably the most important supporting character in Johnny Red, and a big step forward for the portrayal of women in boys’ comics, I figured Nina Petrova deserved her own strip after 40+ years.
I think the original writers are reasonably well represented here: two for Tom Tully, one for Alan Hebden, two for Gerry Finley-Day (plus two more for the latter, if you include the cameos for Skreamer of the Stukas and Glory Rider in the Johnny Red and Hellman strips respectively- Skreamer and Rider were characters I always liked, but who aren’t really strong enough for more than cameos).
And have you got any particular favourites in the list of strips you’ve written?
GE: I can’t pick a favourite, I love them all. But if we do another special, you’ll see there are some characters I’m happy to turn over to other writers and some I want to keep writing myself. That’s no reflection on the strips I wrote for this special, or the artists who worked on them- it’s just how I feel about the original characters themselves.
You’ve made no secret in the past that this era of British comics was hugely influential on you as both reader and as a writer. But what was it about the strips that really set young Garth on the path you chose? Were you a child of Action and Battle Picture Weekly or did your love affair with the comics come later with Battle Action?
GE: I read Battle as a kid but not Action – I was too late for the latter, coming to what was then called Battle-Action in the summer of ’78 (that’s one of the reasons the special is titled as such; the comic I read as a kid was called Battle-Action for 3+ years, even though overall it’s now remembered as Battle). There’s no doubt that reading war stories at such an early age – along with things like Commando, the Picture Libraries and seeing various movies – gave me an interest in military history, which I eventually translated into writing my own war comics.
I’ve always thought it was something to do with realizing that the stories I was reading were based on things that real people had done in real life; that was enough to banish fantasy to the sidelines for me (or would have been, if 2000 AD wasn’t so massively overloaded with talent at the time).
Action was certainly incendiary and hard-hitting, pushing boundaries until they broke. But taking another tack, Battle could/should be considered more of a success because it pushed just enough to make its point whereas Action was a comic that pushed too far, too quick, too hard, and ended up emasculating/destroying it. And the success of Battle and failure (in getting cancelled) of Action influenced 2000 AD, with the writers/editors having to be cleverer in being able to get things in without having the fallout that Action did.
GE: Three thoughts here: 2000 AD is an institution and Action has been living on its bad boy reputation for all these years, but Battle is important because it’s where all this began: Pat Mills and John Wagner created an anti-establishment, high energy formula of action, humour, strong characterization and well-written dialogue that ran right through all three comics. No Battle, no Action – no Action, no 2000 AD – no 2000 AD, no revolution in British comics and all that followed from it. Battle is where all that began.
In terms of actual quality, Action didn’t survive long enough to produce any truly excellent stories- it had fantastic characters and concepts, but it got killed off before any of them could develop into anything really special, on the same level as Darkie’s Mob, say. To me that strip represented Battle turning a corner in terms of quality, going beyond good ideas to something of genuine worth, and paving the way for Charley’s War, HMS Nightshade, The General Dies At Dawn, the better end of Johnny Red etc. People trying that bit harder, transcending what comics had done up ’til then.
And was Battle Action the comic that should never have happened? Meaning ideally, shouldn’t Battle and Action have survived and developed separately over many years? Or was Battle Action always going to happen? After all, if you have a comic like Action designed to push the boundaries, aren’t you going to run into serious trouble sooner or later- and therefore, one way or another, end up being folded into Battle as the most obvious companion title in the line?
Obviously, the final question has to be is this it now for Battle Action? Or have you plans to keep going with some of the characters for future specials here at Rebellion?
GE: I would very much like to do more, as would a number of other writers. Cross your fingers now.
We’ve already shown you the works of legends in Part 1, the art of characters from the first 200 Progs in Part 2, looked at the characters from the 80s in Part 3, and gone into the 90s and more recent characters in Part 4. The likes of Kev O’Neill, Mick MacMahon, Henry Flint, Sean Phillips, Priscilla Bampoh, Langdon Foss, and Bex Glendining have talked about what the characters mean to them and shared some of their art with you.
But of course, sometimes we have art droids who happened to be having their annual service or are in for essential repairs… and that’s just what happened here, with Lando, Hannah Templar, Mateus Manhanini, and Simon Coleby all coming out of Tharg’s droid workshop and then sending things our way. But when the art looks this good and they have interesting things to say, that’s absolutely fine!
SIMON COLEBY – FIENDS OF THE EASTERN FRONT (Prog 152 – 1980)
I was absolutely delighted when Keith invited me to contribute a Fiends of the Eastern Front piece, largely because it was so unexpected. What a privilege – to add even a little something to such an absolutely classic 2000 AD story! Also, of course, a perfect justification to spend work-time revisiting the magnificent creativity of the mighty Carlos Ezquerra.
I loved the grittiness of the textures that Carlos depicted in that story, and the way he showed Hauptmann Costanza as overwhelming and enveloping his victims in Stygian blackness. I tried to catch something of that (dark ) spirit in my piece. I hope that my drawing can stand for what it is, but I especially hope that it can be taken as a hugely sincere nod of respect from an established 2000 AD creator to a hugely-missed absolute 2000 AD master.
That Panzerwaffe trooper’s evening doesn’t look very likely to end well!
LANDO – FINK ANGEL (Prog 193 – 1981)
I think my first experience of 2000 AD was reading collections of Rogue Trooper stories when I was a kid. The brutality of the warfare in Trooper was really haunting, especially the way humans were not only facing lethal weapons on the battlefield but that the pollution in the atmosphere on Nu Earth was so extreme that a tear in a suit meant certain death for the combatants. The idea of a completely inhospitable world in total war is a terrifying concept… and a warning to us about the folly of constant aggression and environmental destruction.
I also read some collections of early Dredd stories with the Angel gang in them around the same time, but wasn’t so familiar with Fink Angel as he appeared in later Progs. There is something very creepy and gnarly about this character that I could easily imagine drawing. Initially I was going to draw him in the Cursed Earth but decided it would be fun to do a Mega-City One background as he ends up there in some of the strips. I wanted to draw him on a trash pile in the city’s underbelly but also really wanted to show the scale of the city megastructure, so I settled on him crouching on an open-top refuse truck. The size and chaotic energy of Mega-City One with giant tower blocks almost being like self-enclosed mini-states is a really great concept, it reminds me of some of the work of JG Ballard.
2000 AD has such a legacy, I really like its satirical political roots and have always enjoyed checking out one shot dread stories. Some of the artists were doing something really stylistically experimental and different, especially with colour, artists like Simon Bisley and John M Burns. They are almost making paintings rather than conventional comic colouring.
MATEUS MANHANINI – SLAINE (Prog 330 – 1983)
The character I was assigned was the Celtic barbarian, Sláine. It was very rewarding to illustrate a great character with almost 40 years of history, knowing that he has impacted and accompanied the lives of thousands of readers.
As an artist, we always feel a little afraid when we work with classic characters, but it is not something we can refuse, our inner child who grew up reading these stories speaks louder and gives us motivation and energy to honour the affection that the fans have for the story!
Inspired by the Sláine The Horned God art by Simon Bisley, and Sláine the King, Demon Killer art by Glenn Fabry, my goal was to get as much as possible to represent the character’s grandiose stance and all his power through a single image. To present all his irreverence and courage. In the chosen sketch, he is on a battlefield, standing over a mountain of defeated enemies, looking at you and asking “are you brave? do you want to be next?”. The contrast of the character’s hard expression with the exaggerated textures and colours of the illustration form a combination that I personally love working with.
This was the first time I’ve ever done collaborative work with 2000 AD, but I would love to repeat the experience illustrating Chopper because I can already have some idea in my head of how I could explore textures and colours with him. I think he is a character that allows the artist to push their creativity to the limit and I love this kind of challenge.
HANNAH TEMPLER – HALO JONES (Prog 376 – 1984)
For the anniversary art book, I illustrated Halo Jones! I was super excited to take this character on because I draw a lot of women and sci-fi, so her character was right up my alley.
For this piece, I explored a couple of different concepts (including sketches of alien planets), but really wanted to focus on a sense of wonder, excitement and exploration. I was inspired to draw Halo Jones flying through space (literally), surrounded by a surreal background full of brilliant hues and colors. You can also see elements from the comic in the background – I love the retro-futurist designs for the spaceships and cities, and had a lot of fun creating a sense of scale for this piece.
45 incredible artists tackle 45 of the Galaxy’s Greatest characters, all in celebration of four and a half decades of Thrill Power in the 2000 AD 45th Anniversary Art Book!
Artists old and new, familiar names from the pages of 2000 AD, famous names from international comics, and fresh talent will all be bringing new life and fresh perspectives to some of comics’ greatest creations.
Available in a standard hardcover or a special slipcase hardcover, exclusive to the 2000 AD webshop, this is a unique collection celebrating 45 years of excellence! Don’t delay, pick up another essential 45th Anniversary from 25 May!
For the fourth glimpse into the 45th Anniversary Art Book, we’re into the ’90s and beyond now, with 2000 AD continually changing and evolving, proving to be as relevant for today as it was back on its launch in 1977.
This is exactly what commissioning editor Oliver Pickles meant when he said the editors wanted ‘some contemporary strips represented in the mix with the obvious golden age classics.’ And that means this selection from the ’90s onwards features the craziness of Hewligan’s Haircut celebrated by Langdon Foss, Dave Kendall‘s unique fashion sense on show with Devlin Waugh, Bex Glendining with two gunsharks after a job for Sinister Dexter, Vicenzo Riccardi takes on Storming Heaven, we have Richard Elson returning to his creation Kingdom, and James Harren showing us his version of The Order.
So, let’s start off with a certain Mr Hewligan and his haircut, something commissioning editor Oliver Pickles was insistent would be in here…
When I was twelve, my parents and I moved from the small Colorado mountain town I grew up in to South Australia. After being exposed to nothing but the mainstream American superhero books I could find at my grocery store, I was amazed at the strange beauty and sheer excess of what I found on the pages of the first 2000 AD book I picked up at the newsagent. These books showed an aspiring comics creator what comics were capable of outside of an American context.
Judge Dredd was predictably the first 2000 AD character I grew attached to. I found the intensity of his character terrifying (but captivating), and I was horrified (and delighted) by the scale and depravity of a civilization that would consider Judges as the most logical solution to crime. I hadn’t seen a commitment to such ambitious settings, storylines, or moral ambiguities in American comics. I’ve loved the narrative freedom of British fiction ever since.
When I was asked to create a piece for 2000 AD’s 45th Anniversary Art Book I considered choosing one of the old favorites like Dredd, Hammerstein, or Torquemada, but I really wanted to honor a character that deserved not to be overlooked. From my first reading of Hewligan’s Haircut, I immediately related to Hewligan’s plight as an eccentric person struggling to keep his sanity in an insane world. While I’m grateful to have grown up in that small mountain town, I struggled to find my place in it. Fun, unassuming stories like Hewligan’s Haircut may not have changed the world, but they were reminders that I wasn’t the only one who felt like an outsider. I’ll always be grateful for them.
DAVE KENDALL – DEVLIN WAUGH (Judge Dredd Megazine 2.01, 1992)
I’ve illustrated my version of Devlin Waugh. It’s a character I’ve always liked, but I believe it was suggested by the commissioning editor, that it could be cool for me to have a go at him. As he’s one of the prime 2000 AD characters dealing with supernatural evil I jumped at the chance. Since he first appeared in theJudge Dredd Megazine I always loved the no-nonsense approach to dealing with supernatural evil. In that respect, he’s not a million miles away from Hellboy, one of my all-time favourite characters.
I can remember that, at the time I was asked to produce this image, I was playing the Samurai/Ninja souls like Nioh. That inspired the Japanese approach here. I felt that the silk kimono aesthetic would be something Devlin would definitely appreciate. I cleared it with the editors to have the kimono decorated with depictions of the penis-headed monk/demons. The famous Japanese woodcut artist Kuniyoshi depicted quite a few of these mythological creatures.
The vanquished, demon monk, wheel was quite a cool and unusual creature and it’s circular design played into the nonchalant pose and composition I wanted for Devlin.
Devlin has always been just a great fun character combined with some brutal horror. That’s always going to win me round. As a whole, 2000 AD means a huge amount to me. I’ve been reading it since I was seven in 1977. It’s definitely one of the main reasons for my career as an illustrator. It’s diversity in stories, art and ideas has always appealed to me. It’s messages, politics and concepts has definitely leaked into many aspects of my life beyond art.
Many major memories of my life could be punctuated with 2000 AD covers and stories. The gas explosion in my area of Bristol happened when I was reading Nemesis’s showdown with zombie Torquemada in Book1. Eating chicken in a basket on holiday in Cornwall as I read Death Lives – I got grease all over that amazing Bolland centre spread and had to purchase another copy. I can’t think of any other popular media that fires up so many memories.
I’m the regular artist on Fall of Deadworld. A dream job if there ever was such a thing. In terms of approaching different characters, you have to find a way to depict it in your style. Devlin Waugh has been depicted by many different artists so that wasn’t too difficult. I think the key was finding a setting and subject matter that was inspiring and made for an interesting composition. Japanese and samurai culture has always inspired me so it was a no-brainer to give the illustration that flavour.
BEX GLENDINING – SINISTER DEXTER (2000 AD Winter Special – 1995)
For my piece I was assigned Sinister Dexter, which I was familiar with before the project. My art director Olivia Hicks was wonderful to bounce ideas off of and such a help in getting the right vibe for Finny and Ray!
We wanted something gloomy and a bit messy without being too tacky. They’ve just gotten off of work after a job, a bit tired, a bit bloody and ready for a drink and a decent night’s sleep, even if that might be a bit difficult with the neon lights of the city.
I had just completed a short story for the Black Beth and the Devil of Al-Kadesh one shot featuring Death Man when they asked me to do a piece for the 45 years of 2000 AD. So I was very excited to start working on another project but most of all, I felt honored to be featured in such an important book for such an important publisher.
I was asked to do a tribute piece for Storming Heaven. I think the main reason for that is because my art style has been often called ‘psychedelic’ and we thought it might work well in the depiction of psychedelic super heroes! So I haven’t really changed my style much from the previous story and I just decided to go full crazy and tried to nail the psychedelic mood for the piece. The art was done on paper and then, as I usually do, I worked the colors digitally. It sure was a fun piece to do!
RICHARD ELSON – KINGDOM (2000 AD X-mas Prof 2007 – 2006)
I contributed Gene the Hackman, from Kingdom. Gene’s the character that I have drawn most for 2000 AD over the years, so it seemed the natural one to ask me to do, I suppose.
It’s always a treat to get back to drawing Gene; I love collaborating with Dan [Abnett] on the series, but, with other commitments, it’s been quite a while since we’ve had chance to work on the character.
Brute power, violent aggression and ‘dogged’ determination are the key characteristics that I want to get across in any pic of Gene in action.
Starting out as a loyal servant to his human masters, but forced to confront their betrayal, Gene has evolved to become a Ronin-type character, creating his own path through a violent and chaotic planet that seems to be doing everything it can to kill him. I think he’s a great metaphor for the human condition.
SEAN PHILLIPS – LAWLESS (Megazine 350, 2014)
I must admit, I’ve never read Lawless, but had seen a few pages of Phil Winslade’s gorgeous artwork online. So I was more than happy to tackle the character when it was suggested to me for the 45th Anniversary book.
I’d drawn a sort of Western book, Pulp, a couple of years ago, so it was nice to get a chance to draw a similar landscape again. Rocks and desert make a change from the more urban landscapes I usually draw. My son Jake did a great colour job over my linework as usual.
Although I’d been drawing comics for almost ten years when I first worked for 2000 AD, it was where I had a chance to figure out the kind of artist I wanted to be, and it was a thrill to be involved in such a hotbed of talent.
JAMES HARREN – THE ORDER – (Prog 2015 – 2014)
And finally… James Harren contributes this version of The Order for the art book and sent across his preliminary sketches and inked version of his piece. But, just like everything else to do with the centuries-old secret organisation dedicated to fighting the fiendish extra-dimensional Wurms and stopping reality unraveling, James figured he’d keep things mysterious and send them along with no explanation!
Today we’re getting our leg warmers and shell suits out of storage and celebrating the ’80s with more great artists telling us about their pieces for the art book, including DaNi talking Chopper, Staz Johnson going Rogue Trooper, Mike Perkins on his love of Alan Davis and Harry 20 On The High Rock, Priscilla Bampoh on someone fierce in blue and Henry Flint on the lady in (blood) red… Durham Red.
DANI – CHOPPER (2000 AD Prog 206)
The character I was assigned to draw for the anthology is Chopper and I couldn’t be happier because he is so cool!
Wanted to make a dreamy piece so I ended up with this pin-up of him in front of the city just floating around and once again had the chance to play with colors for this one (which I don’t usually do as most of my work is black and white).
Whatever project I’m working on, I always enjoy coming back year after year for a 2000 AD collaboration and working with new characters.
STAZ JOHNSON – ROGUE TROOPER (2000 AD Prog 228)
When I’m asked which 2000 AD character I want to draw, I always defer to classic Rogue Trooper. Sure, everyone loves Dredd, but as much as the Lawman Of The Future is 2000 AD’s figurehead, something about that original version of Rogue & his world just resonates with me. Maybe it’s the ‘old school’ war comic vibe to the stories, maybe it’s Dave Gibbons’ artwork, I don’t know, but it encapsulates everything I love about the prog’s Golden age (yeah, I’m an old git, so sue me).
2000 AD moves with the times, & despite its now anachronistic title it’s never been more relevant, but in the same way that your first Dr Who is always your favourite (Jon Pertwee for me, since you asked) your favourite period of 2000 AD is when you discovered it… so being given the opportunity to revisit him again for this volume was an absolute treat.
It was suggested to me that an image that points to Rogue’s origin at the Quartz Zone Massacre would be appropriate. Given this instruction, I started off with a few thumbnail sketches to establish the basic composition...
My instinct was to go for an action packed scene, but calmer heads prevailed & the classic ‘stoic Rogue’ pose was selected… but maybe with a dead Nort, cos y’know… war n’ stuff. So a final thumb was done & this composition was used as the basis for a ‘finished pencil’ & ultimately the inks & colours.
But at this point I could see something was ‘off’. The scene of chaos behind Rogue didn’t look sufficiently chaotic, it didn’t accurately depict the G.I.’s hopeless plight at the Quartz Zone Massacre… we needed more Norts. These extra bad-guy figures were drawn, comped in & coloured giving us the final image.
It’s always a joy to draw Rogue Trooper, & this was no exception.
MIKE PERKINS – HARRY 20 ON THE HIGH ROCK (2000 AD Prog 287)
I was commissioned to illustrate the Harry Twenty On The High Rock piece. I was initially given an option of two possibilities and, although the alternative was, without a doubt, an utter classic 2000 AD series there was absolutely no question about the outcome. Harry Twenty was, and remains, one of my utmost favourite stories in 2000 AD.
It hit me at just that right moment when I wanted to claim a new series as one of my own (and there was a great succession of such series’ ; Harry Twenty…leading to Skizz… followed by Slaine and D.R. and Quinch… leading to Halo Jones). I’d been randomly picking up issues of 2000 AD whenever I came across them from the outset but started to pick it up regularly from prog 242 – thus (apart from Robo-Hunter in Brit Cit) Harry Twenty was the first “new thrill” I encountered from the beginning. The concept, the story, the characters and, of course, the Alan Davis artwork all spoke to me – cementing that 2000 AD love that resides in me to this day. I’ve not missed an issue.
It’s a wonderful lesson to witness the development of Alan Davis’ art throughout the series – sometimes page by page. Starting off from an already remarkable point – albeit scratchier and less assured – to the confidence of line and layout by the end of the series. The artwork is simply beautiful and solidifies my love of Davis’ artwork so much that I’ve always followed him to whatever project he may be taking on. The wealth of characters introduced throughout Harry Twenty is remarkable and a testament to the creativity that has always flourished in 2000 AD. I tend to read my Progs in page order ( except for when The Apocalypse War was taking place!) but I was always incredibly eager to reach the Harry Twenty pages.
As for my piece itself – well, it’s difficult to follow on the heels of Alan Davis at any time and I can only hope that I’ve done the series proud. I’m honoured to have been involved in any aspect – but to have illustrated a montage piece of one of my all-time favourite 2000 AD series is surely the icing on this particular anniversary cake.
PRISCILLA BAMPOH – VENUS BLUEGENES (2000 AD Prog 338)
The character I got to draw was Venus Blugenes. In the art, I had the character all bloodied looking tired and in pain. I was basically just thinking what’s the best way to make her look as intimidating as possible.
I had her coming out of what looks like a huge wreckage in a jungle, kind of a way to show her strength and resilience. I look at images of Venus, and I’m like-WOW she’s fierce and deadly, she’s sort of the type of woman I try to replicate with my original characters nowadays.
The last 2000 AD character I made an illustration of was Durham Red, who was a joy to draw, but I feel like I play to my strengths as an artist more with Venus, especially with the colours. I’m not going to lie, I was unfamiliar with the character since I’m still very new to the 2000AD series, so I don’t have a huge attachment, but I wouldn’t hesitate to draw Venus again given the chance.
HENRY FLINT – DURHAM RED (2000 AD Prog 505)
Of course Johnny Alpha had already been taken so I went with the next best thing Durham Red. She’s scary, cold as ice, perfect bounty hunter, love her to death. Sneaked Alpha into the background for kicks because I’m naughty.
It’s been a thrill to do this especially when it’s one of Ezquerra’s creations. Carlos Ezquerra had such a distinctive style. It’s a real challenge to try and match his energy. Just can’t be done. His characters, the stories he’s worked on and his gritty style are loved by fans and creators alike. He’s greatly missed but his presence remains as strong as ever, what a legacy! All hail King Carlos!
This week sees the release of the 45 Years of 2000 AD art book, celebrating 45 years of 2000 AD with 45 great artists giving their take on some of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic’s legendary characters.
Out on 25 May, the book will be available in a standard hardcover or a special slipcase hardcover, exclusive to the 2000 AD webshop, this is a unique collection honouring four and a half decades of groundbreaking comics!
In this post, we’ve got stunning artists depicting some of the Thrill-Powered characters from the first 200 Progs, Steve White on Flesh, Chun Lo on Dredd, VV Glass on Nemesis, Eduardo Ocana on Blackhawk, Andreas Butzbach on Meltdown Man, and Josh Hicks on Mean Arena. But, as befits his status, we’ll start with old stoney face…
CHUN LO – JUDGE DREDD (2000 AD Prog 2)
I drew Judge Dredd for the book. Dredd has always been such an iconic character with an iconic look. Stern, vigilant, and regal. I wanted to translate that into my drawing. There have been numerous renditions of the character, all amazing. I really wanted mine to stick out. I chose to give him a very blocky visage, box-like if you will. Making him into a larger-than-life intimidating figure, blunt with rough edges. With that recognizable scowl and all.
I wanted to show something, for a lack of a better word, badass. Something that Dredd fans would hopefully like and true to the character.
2000 AD and Dredd have huge nostalgia for me. Nostalgia. I remember one of the first movies I’ve ever seen was actually the 1995 Judge Dredd. The costume designs in the movie were spectacular. In fact some of those design choices I also incorporated into my piece, as well as blending in some elements from the 2012 film Dredd.
This is my first foray into illustrating a 2000 AD character. With that said I would love to have more opportunities to illustrate 2000 AD characters, especially The Dark Judges. Judge Death is a personal favorite of mine.
STEVE WHITE – FLESH (2000 AD Prog 1)
I’ve drawn Old-One Eye from the original series of Flesh. I was approached about doing this piece because, although my original credits on 2000 AD were as a writer, I am now better known as an artist, particularly in the field of palaeoart – the reconstruction and illustration of extinct animals, which is obviously very centred on dinosaurs. So, it seems to have been one of those nexus points where my comics history crossed the streams with my love of drawing dinosaurs.
I guess I wanted to try and encapsulate the wonderful mix of genres the original series of Flesh was constructed from, which at its simplest terms is cowboys vs dinosaurs. Even though Flesh is meant to be set in the future, it was the Wild West feel that, as a kid who loved both westerns and dinosaurs, really spoke to me – The Valley of Gwangi blew my mind as a boy! I just wanted to show those two genres crashing into each other, and there was one particular scene in the first series where the tyrannosaurs break into a domed town that feels more like Deadwood under plexiglass and run amok – it’s where Old One-Eye gets her name – and the whole place goes up in flames. I just wanted it to feel like a movie poster for the Flesh movie we so desperately need.
Flesh was, in a roundabout way, what brought me to 2000 AD after a school friend told me about a new comic that had dinosaurs in it. I loved the story and quickly grew to love everything about 2000 AD. It introduced me to amazing stories, writers, and artists who I continue to love 45 years on. I have muscle memories of reading for the first time the climax of Flesh as Old One-Eye stands atop the Fleshdozer as the Great Monster of All Time. I remember vividly reading the finale of Nemesis Book One and The Cursed Earth. It’s safe to say Flesh and 2000 AD are part of my DNA.
EDUARDO OCANA – BLACK HAWK (Tornado Issue 4 – 1979)
When Olivia Hicks asked me for create an illustration of Black Hawk in this 45th Anniversary of 2000 AD art book next to a lot of incredible 2000 AD artists, I felt honored to be part of a book like this. It has been nice to give my vision of a character that Azpiri, one of the best Spanish comic artist for me, drew in the 70s/80s.
When I was a kid, El Pais, the Spanish newspaper had a comic supplement on Sundays and one of the artists was Azpiri, drawing Mot, an all ages story of a monster and a kid- I loved reading that every Sunday.
Later, when I was a teenager, I loved his short watercolors noir sci-fi stories that I read in the pages of the Spanish magazines Zona 84 or Cimoc (similar to 2000 AD magazine but ended in Spain in the ‘90s.)
I didn´t know Azpiri did Black Hawk, I discovered it in the pdf Olivia sent me with all the adventures in the ‘70s – it was a beautiful surprise and I had no doubts that I wanted to do. Did I have in my style similitudes with the style of Azpiri? – I’d like to think that it’s possible. And even though my style is different from his, I see that I search for similar things; a realistic sci-fi style in backgrounds, strong dynamic characters and a fluid storytelling.
Anyway, for the illustration, I tried to find a vision near to what Azpiri did, so I’ve drawn him in a realistic way, a little far from Full Tilt Boogie style but nearest to Black Hawk’s original idea.
V V GLASS – NEMESIS (2000 AD Prog 167)
I’ve done Nemesis the Warlock from… well, Nemesis the Warlock. I’m a big fan of Kevin O’Neill, so this was an excuse to go through his back catalogue, not to mention getting to do violence on the reader with some really eye-harming colours!
Basically I tried to translate the Gaudian nightmare space of the Nemesis comics to a single image, and to give a sense of the setup there at a glance. There’s a lot going on in Nemesis, per page, so I had to boil everything down to the big points – the architecture, the meld of sci-fi and fantasy, antihero & villain and their respective vibes, the opera of the whole thing.
I wanted to push the colour palette of the comics up to the extreme, as well. The colours on the 80s strips were hostile – it was, in a good way, the palette of a worm exploding. It was at the limit of analogue printing, so I wanted to transfer that approach to the edge of what digital colourgrading can do, what I’d imagine Nemesis could look like if it was being produced now. Then, because of that, I kept having to scale back smaller references for the sake of readability – I originally had Torquemada’s troops fighting Nemesis’ allies in the buildings at the left of the page, but it was impossible to see them because of the complicated colour buildup in that area, so they went. The hazard strip tubes Nemesis is standing on were also originally his ship, but that didn’t translate well to the extreme perspective of the picture, so the colours are there to gesture towards it instead.
The series name was a household meme when I was growing up, and then when I got the chance to actually read it, it turned out a lot more funny and a lot more politically prescient than I’d expected based on sometimes having the title said at me in a horror voice. The philosophy behind Nemesis is of a piece with the rest of 2000 AD in general (which makes sense given who wrote it). It has the same ‘turn it up to 11’ storytelling ethos, but there’s the same sense of anti-authoritarianism coming through spectacle and humour. I like the mode of embodying authoritarian puritanism and othered selfhood and having them engage in a struggle that makes the obvious 1980s equivalents literal. Conservative respectability goes hand in glove with fascist supremacism, so dramatic but also so grindingly doily-drapingly mundane – be pure, be vigilant! But also, you know, just behave.
It was new to draw a distinctly non-human character in a distinctly alien setting. Before this I’d mostly one one-shots for Rebellion anthologies set on modern-day normal Earth with normal people. But even in standard 2000 AD, the strips have some combination of sci-fi and urban settings. Nemesis has as much of your old sword & sorcery fantasy to it as sci-fi, and everyone in it looks like some kind of living polygon. Working with that aesthetic was very refreshing!
ANDREAS BUTZBACH – MELTDOWN MAN (2000 AD Prog 178)
For the 2000 AD 45th-anniversary art book, I had the opportunity to draw Nick Stone, Meltdown Man. A man who gets caught in the blast of a nuclear explosion and flung into the far future, straight into the middle of a caste war. Great stuff!
I was not familiar with the character, the strip predates me by a year and 2000 AD material was hard to get back in the day. Thankfully, this is no more a problem nowadays and as I started reading the collection, it quickly became clear that Alan Hebden had a special story to tell. The strip has a strong spirit and Belardinelli’s art is amazing as always. I love his work on Slaine and he did not disappoint in Meltdown Man either.
It’s always fun to draw cool old-school characters and I try to do my own thing whilst staying true to the original designs. For the Pin-Up, I was going for a hero shot inspired by the original Prog covers. Nick, Liana, Gruff and T-Bone, guns blazin’ in the heat of battle.As said, I’ve not been familiar with Meltdown Man before, but he certainly does mean a lot to me now. As my first published work with 2000 AD, this is a personal milestone. For me, it is an honor to be featured in such a book, among many great artist of which some were huge influences to me. This is childhood dream stuff coming true right here!
Being from Germany, I had only limited access to 2000 AD publications until the Internet changed everything. We had no Prog or regular 2000 AD releases but there were translations of various Judge Dredd stories and Feest published Slaine The Horned God in a huge format. I remember Rogue Trooper being my first 2000 AD series of which I had original English Issues.
2000 AD always stood out from the regularly available comics and shaped my perception of what a comic should be, pretty early. For me, 2000 AD always stood for wild, rebellious fun stuff and after 45 years, still does.
JOSH HICKS – MEAN ARENA (2000 AD Prog 178)
As a sedentary cartoonist I have a sort of biological aversion to sport, but as soon as there’s some kind of dramatic, fantastical element involved, I’m all in. That’s why I love pro-wrestling, and that’s also why I jumped at the chance to draw The Mean Arena’s Matt Tallon for the 45th anniversary art book. Rugby and football I can take or leave – but throw in cyborgs and laser blasts and whatnot and I’m there!
With my piece, I wanted to play pretend and do an honest version of what a Mean Arena comic drawn by me would probably look like. I kept classic design cues from the great John Richardson and Steve Dillon art from the strip’s early days and just tried to do them some semblance of justice.
I also liked the idea of designing the piece like a sports trading card or a video game display screen, so I threw in some Matt Tallon vital statistics for good measure. Playing with that stuff was fun, and also led me to fantasise about a Mean Arena strip from the point of view of the various shady promoters – a perfect mix of Arnie’s The Running Man and Sega’s Football Manager. The dream combo!
The celebrations for 2000 AD‘s 45th year continue with the publication of the 45 Years of 2000 AD Anniversary Art Book this week!
Expect 45 pieces of artistic brilliance – brand new takes coming from artists old and new, both familiar names to readers of the Prog and new and exciting artists from further afield!
Inside you’ll find 45 stunning pieces from 45 great artists with one simple brief – interpret the characters that have made the Galaxy’s Greatest what it is over the past 45 years! And what a lineup it is… not just fabulous familiar names from the past and the present of 2000 AD history including Kevin O’Neill, Sean Phillips, Chris Weston, Henry Flint, and so many more, but some great artists who’ve not really been associated with 2000 AD before, including Jamie Smart, Hannah Templer, Priscilla Bampoh, Annie Wu, and a host of others.
Available in a standard hardcover or a special slipcase hardcover exclusive to the 2000 AD webshop, this is a unique collection honouring four and a half decades of groundbreaking comics!
Over the next few days, we’ll have artists aplenty talking to us telling you about the characters they’ve covered in the Art Book, plus plenty of behind-the-scenes process art. But to start, we figured there was no better place to start than with two genuine 2000 AD legends… Kevin O’Neill and Mick MacMahon, but first, Oliver Pickles, one of the commissioning editors behind the book to explain where the idea came from, and SK Moore with his frontispiece…
OLIVER PICKLES – 2000 AD COMMISSIONING EDITOR
The idea spun out of an office chat about art that dovetailed with the ongoing discussion about which books were being released in conjunction with the 45th Anniversary (books like the 2000 AD Encyclopedia, and the Judge Dredd by Brian Bolland Apex Edition).
We worked up a list of characters/strips that had featured in 2000 AD over the years, ensuring that we had some contemporary strips represented in the mix with the obvious golden age classics. I insisted on Hewligan’s Haircut and no one could stop me.
We then drew up a list of artists – it was a mix of 1) people who we had always wanted to commission but who would otherwise have been unable to commit to a comic strip, and 2) the kind of artists who we just thought were the exact fit for the character/story (Jamie Smart for D.R. & Quinch for example) but had never had the chance to draw that particular story.
There was an occasional bit of negotiation, I approached Dave Lander with an idea that he might draw the A.B.C. Warriors but he said he would much rather draw Rogue Trooper, I would have been happy to let him except that Rogue had just been signed up to Staz Johnson, I sent him the full list of characters that were left and he remembered reading the McMahon Fink and Ezquerra Destiny’s Angels storylines as a kid, and I think he did great work on his Fink Angel piece.
SK MOORE – FRONTISPIECE
I was given the frontispiece to illustrate. This is an illustration that comes before, or adjacent to, the titles of a book and is often a vignette of some kind that aims to capture the tone of the book.
In my case the only fictional character I had to draw was Judge Dredd. But my task was to set Dredd amidst four portraits. My subjects were – Artist Carlos Ezquerra who generated the incredible design and look of the world of Judge Dredd. Writer John Wagner who wrote him into hilarious/terrifying/action-packed life. Writer and editor Pat Mills, who dreamed up the character name and shaped the world-building Cursed Earth and who was the first editor of 2000AD. And writer and editor Matt Smith, the current and longest-standing editor in 2000AD’s award-winning history.
My first task was sourcing images of each of these chaps that could all be placed in such a way that they would work together around a central image of Dredd. That was probably the hardest thing I had to do. Part of the job of this frontispiece is to celebrate those behind this incredible sci-fi-insanity, the people who’ve kept the Prog coming at us, week after week, without fail forever. So I found it ironic that I struggled to find images of them.
Anyway, I then made line drawings based on the images. I didn’t do those in comic style, maybe I should have. But it didn’t feel right so I didn’t and just let real-world illustration blend into comic illustration.
I decided on a generic Dredd ‘on duty’ as the centrepiece and beneath that an image of a more extreme scene in the character’s history, in this case a Stub-Gun shoot-out at the height of the classic Apocalypse War story, an epic that’s horrors echo down the years in Dredd’s world even now. Here I made a very slight attempt to suggest more of a Carlos style Dredd.
I’ve said it before but I wouldn’t be an artist today if it wasn’t for reading a particular Dredd story, drawn by Carlos Ezquerra, at a critical time in my life, it lit the art touchpaper. So 2000 AD holds a special place for me and always will for that reason. I think it hooked me because It was science fiction, which I loved, but it was also funny and that seemed unusual. And it was funny because it was irreverent and it was irreverent because its mirror reflected this stupid world we live in and the morons who live here.
KEVIN O’NEILL – RO-BUSTERS
When first approached to contribute a page for the Art Book the conceit was to draw a character I was not associated with. I turned that down as it held no interest for me but was then asked to contribute a Ro-Busters page in colour. That I could not turn down as I love those characters and enjoyed designing them for their debut in StarLord and doing the odd cover and pin up. Indeed when transferred to 2000 AD Ro-Busters later became my first freelance work after leaving my post as Art Editor.
Writer Pat Mills and I had partly devised the strip back in the early days of 2000 AD as a cynical International Rescue. Mr 10% was a remnant of that early version. When my friend Editor Kelvin Gosnell began putting together StarLord I was given Ro-Busters to design and things moved smoothly with Mek Quake, Mr 10% and Hammerstein. Ro-Jaws however was described in the first script as a humanoid robot dustman with a cloth cap and a dustbin on his back. For the life of me I could not make that work but had some ideas on a wheeled mode of transport. It was Kelvin who, seeing me trying to solve Ro-Jaws final look, said simply – “make him a dustbin with teeth.” Brilliant! The minute I revised the design and fiddled with proportions to give Ro-Jaws his cheeky look I knew I had it.
When drawing the Art Book piece I wanted to get the best out of the prime characters who Pat and I saw as robot Muppet show like figures and full of energy. This may be my last art on good old Ro-Busters and I hope it does them justice. For my money Mick McMahon and Dave Gibbons were the best artists on the strip but I’d like to think I came a decent third.
Your old matey Kev O’Neill. May 2022
MICK MACMAHON – BAD COMPANY
Keith Richardson mailed me about this pin-up book and suggested that I might like to do my take on Bad Company. To be honest I’d never heard of Bad Company, but once I’d had a look at it I knew it was something I could get my teeth into.
First priority was to decide which characters to use, there’s a lot of ’em! At the roughs stage, I had several goes at trying to compose a shot where the characters are standing around in classic pin-up fashion but there were so many legs my head was spinning, so I decided to do an action shot instead.
Once I’d had the idea that they would all be firing their weapons only to the left or the right, it all seemed to come together quite naturally, and through the judicious use of smoke (the artist’s friend), I managed to not have to draw any legs at all. Hurrah!
Mick was also gracious enough to send along the full process of his work on the Bad Company piece as well – which is something we just had to share with you, because why should we have all the fun of opening up an email to see this sort of thing!? Seeing the way that one of 2000 AD’s greatest puts a page together, layouts, pencils, inks… it’s still just a joy and something that constantly amazes…
Judge Dredd Megazine #444 is out on Wednesday 18 May, with the debut of a brand new Judge Dredd story by Arthur Wyatt and Ian Richardson
This next installment in the ‘Red Queen’ saga draws Judge Dredd and Judge Maitland deep into Euro crime, taking in the classic Dredd-world locations of Krong Island and Atlantis along the way.
The first stop is the underwater city of Atlantis, where Dredd and a multi-national team go after the viral legacy of Quaganon in Q-Topia…
We have a new Dredd adventure kicking off in Judge Dredd Megazine 444, Q-Topia – so, first things first… how many episodes for this one?
ARTHUR WYATT: Yes, just the one issue with Ian, and then we have a Jake Lynch two-parter coming up shortly.
Q-Topia is the latest in the whole Judge Maitland vs The Red Queen extended storyline that you, Arthur, have been unfolding slowly across multiple stories.We’ve seen Maitland discover the secret to cutting crime in the Big Meg in Carry The Nine (Progs 2200-2203) and we’ve seen the whole Red Queen/Red Prince saga in Krong Island (Meg 392-395), Eurozoned (Prog 1912-1917), The Red Prince Diaries (Meg 404), and The Red Queen’s Gambit (Meg 409-412).Last time we had it all come together with the Red Queen getting mighty pissed with Maitland’s continued investigations into the euro crime syndicate. That brought us The Hard Way (Prog 2250-2255) and introduced Qaganon and the electronic chaos it brings.
All of which brings us to Q-Topia, storylines merging, this piece fitting in with that piece, payoffs happening all over the place – hell, it also gives us the welcome chance to see Judge Heston – always a pleasure of course!
IAN RICHARDSON: My first time drawing both Maitland & Heston, so that’s been a personal treat!
AW: I believe after Henry Flint and Jake Lynch that Ian is the third artist to draw him.
Maitland has a wonderful opener here, the calm confidence as she delivers the news to Lola at Koko Cabana and Heston deals with an attack on her. It’s such an obviously cool moment and kind of epitomises what I reckon is your great love for the character. I’m right aren’t I?
IR: First page and probably my favourite of the whole story, from the point of view of how the art turned out.
AW: We’ll be coming back to her of course, but she’s very much at the height of her powers here, kicking ass and taking names, the full authority of the city behind her. Will it stay that way if she tries to swing that power and influence around and point it inwards rather than outwards? That’s something we’ll have to see.
And now that you and Rob Williams have made her a star, you’ve got plans for her haven’t you? But are you ever going to convince Tharg to let you do the ultimate Maitland storyline, where she gets to put her plans in place, solves the crime problem and becomes the greatest Chief Judge of them all?
Ooooh, maybe he says!
Arthur, is this all part of what you described in a past interview as ‘There are long term plans, put it that way’? And seeing as Maitland isn’t exactly on the Red Queen’s Christmas card list, maybe you have other, more dangerous plans for Maitland? After all, as Jake Lynch once described her, she’s ‘a real monster’ and not someone to take lightly.
AW: Keen-eyed readers who’ve spotted the title of the story in next month’s Meg might get a clue on if we are going to get a showdown between the queen of accounting and the queen of crime. Debts will be settled, books will be balanced, other metaphors of that nature.
Yep… Regicide is coming!
One thing that makes her a very different, very dangerous sort of threat, to my thinking at least, is that she’s international, not tied into MC1, with a whole world to operate in and that makes it all the more difficult to lock her down. She’s not the simple enemy Dredd can just put his fist through.
And this is part of a new internationalism we’re reading of in the Meg (and to a limited degree the Prog). There’s you and the Red Queen and then we have Rory McConville doing his extended storyline that started with Project Providence, both of them busy exploring beyond the bounds of the Big Meg.
AW: The Megazine always feels like a good place for that sort of thing. Kind of a tradition. I might try pitching some stories that take some other characters into the wider world and see what happens with that.
I know we’ve talked a little of this before, but is this something of a way to carve out a Dredd territory? Some way of running a longer tale that sits apart from MC-1 and lets you develop it all at your pace?
AW: It’s been interesting working with Rob, and bouncing ideas off of him, and how that’s meant that a lot of stories can grow off of elements of other stories… so this story obviously follows on from the events of The Hard Way, but Rob has a couple that do too, and then fingers crossed we’ll be co-writing a series of stories that come back to Maitland.
All the Dredd writers tend to carve out their own little niches, but its fun to see what happens when they collide a little as well. I’d be interested to see more of that in future.
As for the whole Red Queen and Maitland saga, are we in this for the long haul, something to revisit and revisit as they dance around each other?
AW: I think things will reach a natural peak eventually, but then there will be reverberations after that. I’m thinking there’s some dangling threads in the next story that will turn out to be very important over time.
IR: From a reader point of view, I’d hope so! From a droid point of view, I’d love a chance to revisit Maitland after a very, very brief dalliance.
Now, speaking of Jake Lynch as we were a moment ago, he’s been the artist on all of the Red Queen tales thus far. But here we have the impressive Ian Richardson coming in and flexing those artistic muscles, along with Gary Caldwell on colours and Annie Parkhouse on letters.
Arthur, have you had the pleasure of seeing Ian’s pages yet?
AW: I’ve seen bits, looks ace, looking forwards to seeing the full thing.
Was it a case of shifting artistic gears with a storyline you thought suited Ian’s style or was it just the old story of the Lynch droid being unavailable?(Of course, this is the joy of 2000 AD and Dredd – SO many incredible artists means that the loss of one results in someone as strong as Ian coming in!)
IR: I’m blushing! Haha
AW: I think it was Proteus Vex shifting schedules around a little. Only so much of Jake’s time to go around.
Ian, your art brings a whole new look to the Red Queen saga, brilliant artwork but completely different in tone – a more muscular, action-based look that perfectly fits in with this first episode.Was that an intention for you or just a case of your style fitting perfectly?
IR: Thanks Richard! A happy accident of circumstance, I guess. Definitely a completely different tone to Jake’s stuff & it’s me just being me, for better or worse. I came on when Arthur’s script was already done, so it was a case of me working from that script & the reference from Rob & Jake’s previous arc of stuff like Atlantis. Plus, hints like the diving suits being somewhat akin to Henry Flint’s Titan suits. Yeah, my Dredd has always been visually more in that Ron Smith/ Staz Johnson vein I think.
You’ve had a 20+ year career with your art now, since starting in 2001. Like many other UK artists, 2000 AD was your start-point, with your first work there being Sinister Dexter. Of course, you’ve spread your wings since then and have a very successful career – but is there something of a homecoming feel to being back in the 2000 AD fold?
IR: 20+ year… feeling old now, haha. Absolutely, spot on! My very first professional gig was Sinister Dexter: Fully Laundromatic (great title)! It is exactly as you describe, a homecoming, that holds a warm place in my stone-cold heart & I’d always want to do more & more. Whenever I get the chance to work on more Prog or Meg stories, I always look forward to it as a chance to do better work than the last time too.
As for creating your pages, what sort of process do you haveand what sort of collaboration was there here between you and Arthur?
IR: Pretty much the same process for every piece of work for me, with a couple of small differences particular to 2000 AD. As soon as I get the script I thumbnail every page from start to finish to make sure the whole story works art-wise. For Prog & Meg stories they’re really small & loose preliminary thumbnails as Tharg is exceedingly trusting & I can head straight to the finished art from there without having to submit anything for approval. Loosely penciling pages is next… nothing too heavily finished when I know it’s me who will be doing the final inks anyway. Then it’s done & I try to not overly dwell on the finished page too much if I can, otherwise, I know I’ll want to change 80% of it before I send it out! The life of a never-satisfied creative!
I should probably mention I’m still 99% old school & analogue as an artist too. I still work with pencil, pen & ink on board before scanning to send pages to Tharg. It has its pros & cons but it’s also nice to still have original pages for the Squaxx dek Thargo to enjoy, should the mood take them.
As far as collaborating with Arthur this time, as I mentioned, the script was already complete by the time I got involved, so not so much. I hope that might be different in the future as I love Arthur’s stuff I would jump at the chance to work on something new that’s a little more back & forth.
Finally, what’s coming up for the future for you both?
IR: I really do hope much more for the Meg & Progs. In fact I shall be dropping Tharg a line as soon as I finish answering this! In the meantime, I’m currently in the middle of drawing a Vampire Western for a European anthology with my old collaborator from Noble Causes, Jay Faerber & also knee deep in character design for a new multi-media project that I can say no more than that about. A tease aren’t I?
AW: I’ve just written the most complex script I’ve ever written in my life for about two pages of Intestinauts, and you will absolutely know it when you see it. Once I finish the rest of that story it’ll be more Dredd with Rob, and I’ve a few other things brewing – I think I owe Jake some stories with a certain monkey for a start.
And all of that sounds rather tantalising! So, thanks very much to both Arthur and Ian for chatting to us.
Judge Dredd: Q-Topia can be seen in Megazine issue 444, out on 18 May from everywhere you get your Thrill Power from, including right here at the 2000 AD web shop! Look for the stunning Andy Clarke cover!
The latest 2000 AD Regened – Prog 2280 – has hit the stands with the usual thrill-powered mix of all-ages thrills and spills for all you Earthlets, young and old!
Inside, there’s another chance to take a look at the earliest adventures of one Marlon Shakespeare, who would go on to be the greatest skysurfer Mega-City One has ever seen! First introduced in Regened Prog 2246, we’ve seen the young scrawler get busted, serve his juve-cube time, and come out to discover the lure of getting on a board and soaring through the Big Meg.
It’s all brought to you by David Barnett and artist Nick Roche…
David, you’re returning to the Regened Prog 2080 with the second installment of the young Chopper series, What Goes Up, tackling young Marlon Shakespeare before he became the legendary skysurfer. (As well as authoring another new strip – Lowborn High – interview for that one right here!)
Was it a pleasure to return to the world of skysurfing and young Marlon?
DAVID BARNETT: It’s always a pleasure to return to this corner of the Big Meg in the company of Chopper. I feel like Nick and I have really hit our stride in terms of the tone, feel and look of this strip. It’s very much something new in terms of the way this strip comes off and yet is still really in Judge Dredd continuity. It’s a different way of looking at things, with a different — yes, comedic — slant. And I think there’s definitely room for that… Mega-City One is a big place, and it’s fun to revisit times past through a slightly off-kilter lens.
The first episode, Chopper Don’t Surf, in 2000 AD Regened Prog 2246, caught us up with Chopper’s mishaps as a scrawler leading to six months in the Juve-cubes with a robo-teacher reading him Shakespeare as his punishment. Once he got out, he discovered Skysurfing – well, it’s better than heading eggs and washing dishes with mom and dad I suppose.
DB: Yeah, that’s the central concept of Chopper — he’s from common stock and there’s absolutely nothing expected of him in life, so that’s how he breaks the mould, first through graffiti and the Scrawl Wars, which happen before we meet him in this iteration, and now through skysurfing.
And now he’s back, still learning the board, still getting in trouble, still dodging the Judges.
So, where are you taking young Chopper this time? What crazy MC-1 things are you getting him mixed up in?
DB: Well, those who have read the story in Prog 2280 will know that Nick and I bring in an old Mega-City fave, Boinging, and a friend of Marlon and his skysurfer pal Keisha, called Clayts Marquez, who is mad for the craze. But Boingers are disappearing, and it’s up to Chopper and Keisha to find out why.
Of course, the character is one of the most iconic and beloved in the Dreddverse. Was there some trepidation on your part in going back and exploring the earliest days of Chopper?
DB: Chopper has a long and illustrious history and some absolutely great creative teams have documented his adventures at various points in his life. He’s a much-loved character and that’s why, really, Nick and I wanted to take a different tack on this, and bearing in mind this is also for the Regened all-ages issue. The idea is to get new readers on board so you want to honour the character and at the same time not weigh them down with decades of continuity. A nine-year-old should be able to pick up Prog 2280 and enjoy Chopper while getting a sense of the broader canvas he’s drawn on, but not be put off by there being stuff that’s happened that they should know about to read the comic.
Who came to this one first? Was it collaborative from the off or did you get the idea for Chopper and then Nick came onboard?
DB: I wrote the first strip and then Nick was assigned, and I was completely blown away by the energy, dynamism and fun he brought to the story. When it came to the second strip, I asked him what he wanted to draw, and he immediately said, “Big robots!” So there’s a clue for those who haven’t read this issue yet. Knowing Nick’s style makes it so much easier to write.
Writer-Artist communication right there folks! – ‘BIG ROBOTS!’
David, although you’ve kept the thrills of the skysurfing and adventures in here, you’ve also made this something of a meta-comedy from the off, with Chopper regularly breaking the fourth wall to talk to the readership. It’s something that gives the young Chopper strip a real easy-going freshness, perfect for the all-ages audience but also clever enough to satisfy older Chopper fans I would expect.
Here, we get all that and the ridiculousness of Judge Wannabe, sorry, Judge Watanabe. But the constant is the tongue-in-cheek commentary and chatting to the audience from Chopper.
DB: Yeah, when I was thinking about the first strip in particular, I wanted to get across that anarchic, teenage, adventurous stuff, and I immediately thought of Ferris Bueller, who famously broke the fourth wall, so I thought that would be a nifty little device to both give the strip something different and throw in some sneaky exposition for readers to explain things like, for example, Boinging. Judge Watanabe came about because I really wanted to write Dredd! And I’m not sure he actually fits into the strip’s tone, at least not yet, so why not have a Judge who really, really, really idolises Dredd so much that he wants to be him.
Why did you head off into comedy for Chopper? He’s not a character that’s been really played for laughs before. Although, of course, 2000 AD has a long history of playing with the ridiculousness of the worlds we’re in.
DB: Yeah, exactly that. 2000 AD is built on satire. Our Chopper is a little less subtle and more in your face than satire — we do play it for laughs. But at the same time, we do try to keep it logical and in continuity. And you see at the end of this episode that Chopper is learning some unpalatable truths about the world he inhabits.
And I have to say how good Nick’s artwork is at getting over everything that’s required. Firstly, Chopper stories always have great visuals, all with those strange skysurfing angles, but he’s also having to pull off some great comedy – whether it’s playing with brilliant bits of physical comedy such as Chopper’s first trip out on a board or the great wait for it, wait for it, wait for it moment here in What Goes Up with Judge Wannabe waiting for the street boinger to come down.
DB: I’d like to say, regarding Nick’s art, that he absolutely nails both the bigger picture of Mega-City One — he obviously has huge respect for the source material — and the individual character looks. And his comic timing is perfect, especially with the expressions he gives the characters. I think Nick is having great fun playing with his Chopper (*looks to camera, raises eyebrow*).
And our huge congratulations to David for leaving it THAT long in the interview to make that gag!
As for the future, can we expect to see the pair of you coming up with more of these young Chopper stories in future Regened?
I would LOVE to do more Chopper with Nick. I think we make a really great team and we’ve definitely hit some kind of groove here. The best thing is that we have the whole of Judge Dredd lore to play with. All those amazing storylines from the 1980s… imagine Chopper during the Judge Death saga? Or the Apocalypse War? Would he still be able to keep his sense of humour?
Okay then, how about other work you’d fancy getting into Regened? Seems to me that we’ve seen some great all-ages versions of classic 2000 AD characters already, but is there anyone you’d absolutely love to get into Regened?
DB: Obviously there are some issues with some characters when it comes to 2000 AD, and who’s available and who’s not. I think most of the ones I have ideas for are probably problematic. I’d love to do Young Zenith, kind of in some wacky Monkees-style strip. And Flesh, but from the other side… eco-warrior kids going back in time to stop the hunters killing dinosaurs.
Finally, what’s on the horizon for you both? More Chopper hopefully, but what other work will you have coming out soon, whether for 2000 AD or elsewhere?
DB: For 2000 AD I’ve just written a three-part 3Riller story which is a folk-horror adventure I’d love to see given a longer run, if it proved popular. And there are other irons in the fire and other projects on the go for other publishers which are very exciting but which sadly I can say precisely nowt about right now!
Our thanks to David for making the time to sit down and chat – you can thrill to young Marlon’s latest misadventures in the pages of 2000 AD Regened Prog 2280, out right now from your favourite places to pick up thrill power, including the 2000 AD web shop.
It’s Regened time once again with 2000 AD Prog 2280, bringing you all the zarjaz thrills and ghafflebette adventure of the Galaxy’s Greatest, just with that all-ages twist!
Inside the latest Regened Prog, we have a great line-up of five strips, including Cadet Dredd, the return of kid Chopper, a Future Shock, and the return of the kids of Class Omega-Default IV in The Unteachables. And there’s also a brand-new strip, a fantastic and fabulous look at an amazing wizarding world in Lowborn High by David Barnett and Anna Morozova.
So, get ready to meet Androgeus Frost, born of a high wizarding family and spectacularly failing at all things academic who finds himself booted down to Lowborn High, where the kids might not have the privilege of those at the prestigious Wychdusk school where all the posh wizards and witches go, but there’s still plenty of magical ability in the air.
David, Anna, with the latest Regened in 2000 AD Prog 2280, you’re bringing us a completely new strip, Lowborn High, set in a magical world of wizards and witchcraft. But you’ve rather turned the whole Hogwarts on its head here with Lowborn High haven’t you?
It seems to me you’ve cleverly taken on all the elements of Hogwarts and the tale of a certain boy wizard (even down to making him an orphan) and then mashed it up with something that would sit perfectly in the old British humour comics, the sort of silly concept that Leo Baxendale would have had lots of fun with, a Bash Street Kids for failed wizards, that sort of thing? But then you’ve twisted it even further by not going down a comedy route and giving us a classic fish out of water story where the son of one of the wizarding worlds’ most esteemed families ends up dumped into Lowborn High with all the other duds, drop-outs, and those who don’t have the upper-class wizarding family background.
It’s Grange Hill with wizards isn’t it? (Although that’s a reference lost on a lot of younger readers as well!) Maybe a council estate Hogwarts tale?
David Barnett:Lowborn High is exactly that — Harry Potter meets Grange Hill. Very often, certainly going back to my childhood, wizarding school stories mostly seemed all very jolly hockey sticks and, to my young working-class eye, very elitist. So Wychdusk Manor is the Hogwarts-alike school where the wizarding families send their offspring to learn their craft, but it’s a very upper class, establishment sort of place. And it stands to reason that there are going to be kids who have lots of talent and ability, but don’t have the opportunities and connections to go to Wychdusk. So they end up going to Lowborn High, which is nominally funded by the wizarding community but not to a very great extent.
DB: So Lowborn High is essentially the equivalent of an inner-city comprehensive and yes, very much like Grange Hill, which is a TV show I grew up on and which was very representative of my own upbringing. For those who (claim to be anyway) are too young to remember Grange Hill, it was a warts-and-all working class school where there were some heavy issues dealt with alongside the usual hi-jinks. Just say no, kids.
Conversely, having set up Lowborn High, I wanted the reader to see it through the eyes of Androgeus Frost, who is an upper-class kid bound for Wychdusk but whose lackadaisical attitude means he just doesn’t make the grade, and has to go to Lowborn High for a year to prove himself. Of course, he hates the idea and thinks he’s a cut above the kids there. So as well as being our way in, he’s setting himself up for some very big falls, and learning some humility along the way.
Anna Morozova: I haven’t been familiar with Grange Hill at all, up until the point I started working on the strip. Whilst doing the research though, I became aware of how significant that show was at the time. Harry Potter would, of course, be a more familiar reference to younger readers. There’s an interesting combination involving reference points from different eras that contribute to a new concept, which can be relatable to multiple audiences, yet bring something new to the table of wizardly universes.
Anna, your lush artwork on the strip really does give it that wonderful mix of a grounded, modern-day feel but also something that captures the fantastical elements. You’re establishing yourself nicely in 2000 AD now, with several strips to your name. Presumably, with the elements of creating something new like Lowborn High, the worldbuilding involved, it’s considerably more work?
AM: It is to an extent, though I find this kind of work very enjoyable. Getting an opportunity to visualise and interpret something new feels like taking on the role of a Concept Artist whilst telling a story.
For Lowborn High, I tried to keep the visual appearances relatively modern with Wychdusk’s inhabitants and alumni being ‘over the top’ and Lowborn’s – casual and way humbler. One thing I was looking to avoid though is the clichéd ‘dusty’ aesthetic of sorcery realms. Wychdusk or Lowborn, posh or modest, privileged or disadvantaged – doesn’t mean that the universe’s population has to be wearing several centuries-old outfits and interact with objects that have been collecting multiple layers of honorary dust on them – they must have cleaning spells at the end of the day! Fixing a whole comprehensive school up, on the other hand, probably isn’t in the spell-casting budget plus the kids keep wrecking it anyway (as very much evident in the first episode!).
Can you tell us a little about the work involved putting the strip together? What sort of chats did the pair of you have when coming up with Lowborn High and how did what you imagined come together for the finished strip?
AM: I believe Lowborn High originally had a different co-creator assigned to it: Philip Bond (no pressure, right?). I remember seeing it scheduled for the same Regened issue in which Viva Forever appeared (Prog 2220 – written by David Baillie with line art by myself). For reasons unknown to me, the original plan didn’t work out and the script had to wait on a new artist to step in. After finishing illustrating John Tomlinson’s Terror Tales episode Foreclosure, I sent Tharg a request for more work accompanied by the Ann-Droid comic strip.
AM: With Tharg not replying to my cheeky communication attempt on the same day, I was under the impression that I might as well pack up my droid-bag and take the Long Walk to the Cursed Earth in search for other jobs.
Luckily, the very next day I heard back from Tharg who, most likely after consulting with Joko-Jargo, had granted me a Lowborn High script, which led to the version you’re now welcome to read. I hope David is happy with the way the script has come to life; if it does well and we get more episodes greenlit after the second one, I’m sure myself and David can cooperate even more on it, bringing the readers the best result we possibly can.
DB: As Anna says, Lowborn High was originally assigned to another artist, which didn’t come off in the end for various reasons. When Tharg told me he had given the job to Anna I was over the moon. I can’t praise her work highly enough. And it is just perfect for Lowborn High — there’s that almost ethereal quality to the Wychdusk scenes combined with some real down and dirty Lowborn High stuff. It’s the perfect combination and Anna is the perfect artist for this strip.
But, as a result of that situation, we didn’t have a great deal of time to discuss things before she had to turn in the art on the first script. And when I saw it I was blown away. It certainly informs my writing of the strip going forward and has crystallised the characters and locations in my head, so we kind of did brainstorming by osmosis, I suppose.
One very obvious thing about Lowborn High is that little caption at the end… ‘Lowborn High returns in the next Regened issue‘, does this mean that you both knew that it was going to be continuing when you put this first episode together?
Was it something that was known at the planning stages – did Joko-Jargo love the pitch so much that he greenlit it for future episodes?
DB: When you start a new, original strip you never know how it’s going to be received, but I wrote Lowborn High as an ongoing storyline, with each episode self-contained, of course. So it was great news to be given the green light to write a second episode, and because Anna was on board at this point we were able to have a few conversations beforehand. I’m just hoping readers love the story enough for us to write many more episodes!
AM: Planning that takes place in the Nerve Centre is all under a veil of mystery to me. All I can say at this stage is that I take it as a massive vote of confidence that the editorial trusted us enough to commission the second episode and I shall do my very best on it!
One element that’s often overlooked in putting a strip together is the work of your letterer, so a few words of praise to Jim Campbell’s work here – I particularly loved the whispered panels with the faded grey lettering, that was a particularly lovely touch I thought.
DB: Jim’s lettering adds a whole new layer to the look of the strip, and really dovetails in with Anna’s art and colours to create what I can only describe as a visual feast.
AM: Very happy to be teamed up with Jim Campbell on the lettering – he’s done an amazing job on bringing these pages to their final state. Great attention to detail and a lovely font choice. I do hope I don’t cause him too much bother and leave enough room for the word balloons. I know there’s an occasional panel or two that may be tricky, though I’m trying to perfect the skill of making the letterers’ job as easy as I possibly can.
What was it that first got you into comics as a reader?
DB: It sounds a bit pat but I’ve been reading comics as long as I can remember. Even before I could read. I think I’ve told this story before, but my grandparents, for reasons best known to themselves, gave me a copy of the 1970 Fantastic! annual as a present for quite literally my birth. I grew up with that book and its reprints of the X-Men and Thor, so comics were always in the blood. As a kid I loved Krazy and Monster Fun, and the black and white Marvel UK weeklies got me into American comics. Of course, I bought the first issue of 2000 AD, aged seven. And never looked back.
AM: Pretty pictures on news stands. I’ve always liked visual content that is drawn, illustrated. I’d also vandalise books and magazines as a kid, always in search of what I could potentially cut out and use as an action figurine – then I’d sometimes read the content around the actual illustration and comics were perfect for it. The more I got into a story, the more pages in the comics were safe from scissors.
And from there, how did you progress to writing and into 2000 AD?
AM: It was the right place at the right time. An opportunity came up to try and get into the comics industry, and I decided to give it a go: allowed myself a year to develop a folio of sequential art and, I guess, the stars were aligned in my favour. 2000 AD became my first ever professional employer. I appreciate the cultural and creative significance of this publication and try my best to deliver the best work I can whilst catching up with the incredible back catalogue of legendary stories that had appeared on the comic’s pages throughout the years.
So 2000 AD was your first pro gig Anna?
AM: My first published work was in 2000 AD and I’ve been lucky to have been working for Rebellion since then with every project being very different and I’ve been trying to push my skills further every step of the way. Along with that I’ve done other freelance gigs, some of which are comics too. I have recently collaborated with Alan Hebden on an indie strip called Star-Nav and there are more projects to be announced soon.
How about you David, what was your journey into writing comics?
DB: I’d always had ambitions to write comics but in those far off, pre-internet days had no idea how you did it. I started work as a journalist aged 19, and then concentrated on writing novels, so it was quite late when I actually started my comics career. Which came about after meeting former Vertigo boss Shelly Bond at the Thought Bubble comics con in Leeds a few years ago. After I’d told her I had ambitions to write comics and she agreed to look at one of my scripts, she took me on as part of her creator-owned Black Crown imprint for IDW.
Yes, although you might not be as well known for your 2000 AD work (although that should change soon), you’ve quite a number of comics titles to your name.
DB: For Black Crown/IDW I wrote two series of Punks Not Dead with artist Martin Simmonds, who’s currently kicking backsides in a big way on the Department of Truth. Then I wrote five issues of Eve’s Stranger with Philip Bond, which has just been optioned by BBC Studios for a TV adaptation. That was followed by a five-issue run on Books of Magic for DC, in the Sandman Universe, and a one-shot for Archie, Riverdale: South Side Serpents. Then came my 2000 AD career, with a reboot of classic Dredd supporting character Chopper for a Regened audience, and Lowborn High, as well as a story about Tharg for the 45th anniversary issue, and a Tales from the Black Museum short for the Megazine.
Finally, what can we expect from you in the future?
AM: Episode Two of Lowborn High is in the works, so that shall see the light of day in the next Regened issue. I have also illustrated the upcoming Rocky of the Rovers: Game Changer novel written by Tom Palmer, which will be out on June the 22nd this year. Hopefully more news to come soon!
DB: Hopefully more Lowborn High after episode two, and Chopper, and Tharg is currently looking over a brand new strip that I’ve written, which fingers crossed will appear in a future Prog. And there are other projects on the go at other publishers, but, in time-honoured fashion, I can’t mention any of them right now!
Thank you so much to both David and Anna for chatting to us – you can find the first episode of Lowborn High in 2000 AD Prog 2280 – out now from everywhere the Galaxy’s Greatest is sold, including the 2000 AD web shop.
Every year, 2000 AD goes to Thought Bubble and holds its talent search to find the latest of Tharg’s script and art droids. And this year the winners were Honor Vincent and Lee Milmore.
You can see the videos of the talent search right here and, even better, you can see both their prize for the contest and their very first published 2000 AD work this week in 2000 AD Prog 2279!
With Future Shock: Relict, Honor and Lee tell a magnificent 4-page tale of time travel, eco-disaster, and the dangers of humanity taking nature for granted, all told through the eyes of Steven, a particularly resourceful mouse. It’s a great Future Shock and surely just the first of many, many strips we’ll be seeing from the pair of talented droids (in fact, Honor’s second strip appears just a week later in 2000 AD Regened Prog 2280!)
Honor, Lee, welcome to the wonderful world of 2000 AD!
You’re just the latest winners of the 2000 AD Thought Bubble talent search competition, with you valiantly defeating all comers for the 2021 competition and surviving the grilling of the panels to be crowned the latest new writer and artist winners!
And in this weeks’ 2000 AD, you get to see the fruits of your labour, with your first 2000 AD strip, Future Shock: Relict in the pages of Prog 2279. Honor, you’ve gone even further and actually have your second Future Shock in the very next Prog, 2280, the latest of 2000 AD‘s Regened issues, with Smart Home.
So, what did it mean to you to get the nod and realise you’d made it to the top of the pile?
HONOR VINCENT: I saw the email from Matt first thing in the morning, and I jogged around my apartment yipping until the stream! I had watched the old streams before entering to get a sense of the field, I’ve read many Future Shocks old and new, and I would have been delighted to even make it to the final round, let alone win. Then I watched the Artist Talent Hunt video and was extremely excited that the story would be drawn by Lee.
LEE MILMORE: It’s hard to describe. I’ve always wanted to be in comics, but I’ve always specifically wanted to be in 2000 AD, so it was a shock and a delight to realise that dream.
What did winning the contest and seeing your work in the pages of 2000AD mean for you?
HV: If I can come up with a story that’s worthy of being a Future Shock, that’s a massive sign that being a writer isn’t as quixotic an exercise as I sometimes feel it is.
Now, as for Relict, it’s very much a Future Shock but it’s also something that little different for 2000 AD I suppose… but I’ll say no more about it… instead, let’s have you tell us all about it and sell us on it! Honor, Lee, what’s it all about?
HV: It’s about ripple effects, and the unintended consequences of fiddling with things like aging and death (as we are currently doing in labs across the world)!
LM: Different yes, but also which other anthology book would it fit? Only 2000 AD has the diversity and depth to include it.
I suppose it’s something of a tale of derring-do, an environmental fable, and a harsh warning for us all about both animal cruelty and caring for the planet.
LM: For me Honor crafted a perfect little story about the consequences of human ignorance of our world and the other inhabitants we share it with.
And so say we all!
Do you know what it was about the strip that made the judges so impressed – what was the feedback you got?
HV: It seemed like they responded to it being – like you said – something that’s a little different. I’m certainly not the first person to write from an animal’s perspective, but it’s not the common case in science fiction. So I was able to do a sting in the tail AND a sting at the top.
Aside from that, I know that Maura [McHugh, one of the Judges at the Thought Bubble/2000 AD writers search] liked the idea of Steven and his little mouse bag!
LM: I think Honor put a little of everything that makes a good story into this 4 pager, emotional connection being a big one. I quickly cared about Steven’s story. She’s a real talent.
It’s also not the only thing you’ve written with an animal theme – with your Kickstarter for New Rat City still running – so where does the love of rodents come from? Or is it merely just the fact that rats are quite an obsession to you and you just couldn’t stop creating stories around them?
HV: I haven’t met an animal I didn’t like, which I think is why they’re a theme!
Oh yes, absolutely – surely one of the signs of a good person!
HV: Plus, if you live in New York City long enough you have to either learn to see the pigeons and the rats as neighbors or you develop a persecution complex. My dad was an exterminator when I was growing up, and that’s really where New Rat City came from: imagining a flooding, depopulated, crumbling NYC circa 2083 from the perspective of a pest controller trying to be a band-aid over the cracks.
Relict‘s influences were conversations with friends about senescence research and experiments done on mice, and reading all the Redwall books as a kid.
But of course, Relict’s not the only Future Shock on the cards for you, is it – in a typical buses analogy, you pitch and pitch and pitch Future Shocks and then two come along at once for you, Honor! You’ve got the Future ShockSmart Home, with V V Glass, in the very next Prog, the Regened Prog 2280.Was that a complete coincidence?
HV: Tharg & Joko (well, Matt) actually reached out to me a few weeks after I sent the final script for Relict in to ask if I could write another Future Shock for the next Regened issue, which was a very nice surprise!
It’s another great bit of Future Shock stuff, with the story of a sentient Roomba and an idea of just what real AI could lead to. And it’s one of those Future Shocks where it’s just not that far away from actually happening.
HV: Thank you! And I HOPE it is far away… if my Google Home gains sentience soon I’m in trouble, because I do take a tone with it sometimes.
It’s also evidence of what we’re increasingly seeing with the Regened Progs, that there’s very little difference between what you can do story-wise for Regened and in the grown-up Prog, just less swearing and blood, but the storytelling and the artistic style is just the same.
HV: The ‘minimal swearing and blood’ thing made me more nervous than the ‘4 pages’ thing, to be very honest. But I remember being a kid and reading anything I could get my hands on — I don’t think kids should be talked or written down to. If they don’t fully understand something on the first read, they’ll (hopefully, if it’s a good enough story) come back to it later on.
So, we know you’re both wonderfully talented, but what about your own stories? Who are you and how the devil are you and all that?
Where are you both from and how did you find yourself pursuing comics professionally? Is it something you planned on from a young age or did you manage to fall into it sideways, as it were?
LM: I’m from Durham up near Newcastle upon Tyne which is a wonderful and unique place full of wonderful and unique people.
I grew up wanting to draw comics, which meant to me drawing for 2000 AD. When I was 18 I traveled to London with my portfolio and just went over to the Nerve Centre and knocked on Thargs door. NOT the thing to do. However, I was lucky that Tharg needed to supply the Langley Droid with neck oil and we all met in the local oil dispensary. Tharg saw some potential and I got sample pages to draw, over the next couple of years I painfully slowly put pages together but really I failed to understand how to grasp that moment, for instance, I’d go to my Fine art painting school for 8 hours a day instead of preparing samples. So I messed that up or probably more accurately I wasn’t ready for it, being as green as the Mighty one’s bonce.
So I went off and got embroiled in designing websites, ran some web businesses, ran a record label for 5 years and eventually became a head designer at an agency in Newcastle. Note that I didn’t send samples to any other comic publisher, it was as if they didn’t exist.
Oh, I’m quite old for a newbie I should mention.
Proof that you’re never too old to pitch to Tharg!
LM: Years later me and a friend met in a pub after challenging each other to draw Spider-Man, and with his encouragement and nagging I’ve slowly geared back up to giving it a go.
Almost as an exercise I started entering the 2000 AD Art Stars competition but really wasn’t drawing strips. It really helped though to have that objective challenge there to focus the mind and get me into the habit of finishing art works. I eventually got to a place where I could start drawing pages and I love it. Winning the competition has started opening doors for me but I’m really barely in the industry yet.
HV: I was born in and still live in New York City, and I grew up on Long Island. I always planned to write well enough to get paid to do it one day. I got into comics because I kept writing short stories that actually only worked as comics, so I decided to give them a try that way. I wasn’t about to ask someone to work on my script without paying them, which made it a big undertaking. I saved up for a while before I felt ready to start my first series.
Lee, your art for Relict is so wonderfully polished, very much fully formed, tight black and white with a whole load of detail and a delicate line. I won’t go the way of doing all the comparisons, but I’m sure others will be definitely comparing what’s here to some very familiar names.
What’s your process – could you give us a breakdown of what it takes to create one of your pages?
LM: I have both a very specific and at once very unresolved process for creating a page. Firstly it’s all digital, I do very, very super rough doodles on paper, maybe I’ll work out what a character might basically look like in a sketch book probably whilst sitting in front of the idiot box.
From that I probably know what I want my basic compositions to be and how the page should flow, where I want my cameras placed all that good stuff.
LM: In the past I used to look to have a style, I mean I wanted to be Carlos or Mick MacMahon like everyone else, but I used to make terrible pages that obsessed with style over content, I couldn’t get a thing done. So I shifted to trying to properly represent the story and put my ego (“I am a superstar artist, I am”) in the back seat.
So reference has become very important to me, over much I expect. I’ll essentially hunt for the right poses, the right objects to help me tell the story authentically. I end up making photoshopped collages, which become my pencils more or less. Sometimes this feels like cheating but it’s such a creative part of the page design where things occur to me, more exciting poses and camera angles appear that I actually love that bit. It’s slow though, I’m currently trying to lighten the process to speed up my output. I feel like I’ll get the balance right eventually. In the meantime I want to tell the story as best I can.
Then I ink the heck out of it. So I drop my collage down faint, faint, faint and in a layer over the top I try and give it energy back by inking as freely as I can.
Warning – I don’t advocate for this approach exactly. It’s time-consuming and you can start to obsess over the right reference. I recently built a staircase in 3D just to get the perspective right, it ended up being a tiny sliver of a small panel….I shoulda just drew it, right?
I realised along the way that it doesn’t really matter how you do it, getting it done is everything. Once it’s done you have a possibility, something to share, something to be critiqued and learn from. I’ve drawn some awesome stylised Judge Dredd heads over the years but no one ever saw them and it ended up being a frustrating exercise. Now I just get it done, by hook or by crook.
Have you entered the Thought Bubble talent search before?
HV: Nope! This was my first.
LM: I’ve attended the competition panels in both Leeds and Harrogate as an audience member and have been full of admiration for those brave enough to get up there and be critiqued. I wanted to enter but was still struggling getting back into the saddle. Closest I got was a page that I showed to Matt Smith, I felt a bit silly having not completed the brief but wanted to see what he said. He was encouraging but one page is not a portfolio and it certainly isn’t an entry to the Thought Bubble 2000 AD talent search.
As for the competition itself, can you tell us a little about the actual process of entering, the preparation involved, and the terror of pitching in front of the judging panel of experts?
LM: I didn’t have the terror bit as the pandemic had pushed the competition online. In fact, as I hadn’t heard anything about my entry up to the day of the convention I assumed I hadn’t been selected. I was in the pub with friends when I received a tweet from the excellent Ade Hughes (look him up comic fans) simply saying “You’ve done it Lee, you won.” I still didn’t really understand until I checked my email. It was great actually as I was surrounded by good friends and my lovely wife, it was a shocking, sobering, delightful moment that I honestly didn’t think would ever come. Big thanks to the panel Doug Braithwaite, Liana Kangas and Olivia Hicks, I mean I love them for it. x
HV: The one good thing about the past two years of remote-everything is that I could pitch to my computer screen, so no one had to hear my voice shake! I considered entering in 2020, but I didn’t feel that I had something that lived up to the brief.
I’d been working on Relict as a short story, so I had the arc roughed out before I realized it could be a good Future Shock. Then I scripted it, thumbnailed it, and worked on those until I was happy with them. I wrote the pitch and then wrote a separate script for myself, then did a few timed practice runs and many takes on the video.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming writers and artists about getting into comics in general, and the 2000AD/Thought Bubble competition in particular?
LM: I feel Honor is better placed to answer this, my way has just been stubborn, dogged determination but in a very narrow furrow and I only have a toe in the comic waters. I’d say be determined but don’t do anything else I did. For artists doing the competition; I’d say again that doing the work is all-important, by that I mean get the pages done to whatever standard you’re able and be prepared to not win or even be selected. It’s ok to be disappointed but you should also accept you’re a developing artist and you might not be quite ready yet. Hey good news, there’s another one next year and you can work hard to get better for. Listen carefully to the feedback if you’re lucky enough to get it, they’ll be right about your flaws so learn from them, that’s the good stuff.
Also it’s such a privilege to have these competitions to focus on, 2000 AD have really embraced the creative community they know how much it means to us, respect the opportunity. Work hard and tell the story above all else.
HV: On comics in general: make them and study them. Figure out why the books you love work – reverse engineer the script from the page, map out the pacing, see what they do that can only be done in a comic. If you write and can’t draw, find an artist you can collaborate with on some shorter pieces.
Brass tacks-wise the best advice I have received so far is to not write scenes of people walking and talking. You can skip it! Grud made captions for a reason!
On the 2000 AD/Thought Bubble competition: do thumbnail sketches of your script to make sure your pacing works. No one has to see them but you. Writing a complete story in 4 pages is HARD, and It’s easy to get carried away and pack 3 pages of action into 1 ‘page’ of script if you aren’t careful. Doodling them will make that clear, and it also helps me polish the story up a bit, too. And of course, read as many Future Shocks as you can get your hands on.
When did you both get into comics? Was it something from childhood or from later? And what sort of comics were your entry points into the medium as a reader?
LM: My Dad read great stories to me when I was very little, Wind in the Willows, Watership Down, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Aesop’s fables and many others but most significantly perhaps he read me Lord of the Rings. I think these stories made me into a person who looked for the creative, strange, fantastic, and the thought-provoking. I think that was the genesis of what I like creatively. More specifically, very early on I read Tintin and Asterix getting books out of our local library where my Mam took me and my sister. That was a wonderful experience which I think I handed down to our younger brother Ben who also loves Tintin to this day. I also used to read Oor Wullie and The Broons, as my Grandparents bought the Sunday Post. Also Garth from the Daily Mirror was significant as it set me up for what was to come.
HV: My dad got me into comics when I was young, in the mid-90s — he’s got many hundreds of them in a shelving unit. The first ones I remember reading were 80s and 90s X-Men books, but the first comic that made a big impression on me as an example of what you could do with the medium was Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth; the second was Alan Moore and Stephen Bissette’s Swamp Thing. I started buying comics for myself regularly in college, and the first series I bought from start to finish was Fables.
When did you first start reading 2000AD?
HV: As an American (hiss!) I came to it late.
It’s okay, we forgive you, some of our best friends are American, etc. etc.
HV: I first encountered Dredd and 2000 AD in college when I spent some time in England, but money was scarce at that point, so I wasn’t able to keep up with the Progs until recently. Instead I have some well-loved copies of the Future Shock anthologies, and a bunch of the fantastic Judges Dredd and Anderson Case Files books.
LM: My Grandma gave me a copy of Prog 262, (the one with the Dredd badge with a bullet hole and a trickle of blood) that had been posted inside the Sunday Post by accident. In my family they say it was her fault! My first regular Prog was 274 probably after weeks of whining on at my parents about getting it.
Oh, well done to Grandma! Definitely a Squaxx dek Thargo!
And if you had the chance to work on a dream 2000AD strip or character, what would it be?
LM: So many…but perhaps predictably, Judge Dredd, I WOULD LOVE THAT.
HV: I know the Angel crew is kaput, but where is Ratty? What’s he doing? Is he okay? But seriously: Judge Anderson, bar none.
What about influences?
LM: Many but I’m not sure anything I do shows it. Most significantly for me those artists that set comics alight in the 80s. Carlos Ezquerra, Mick McMahon, Brian Bolland, Cam Kennedy, Kev O’Neill oh and loads of others. Away from 2000 AD, I love Moebius, Guy Davis, Mike Mignola, crazy for Marcelo Frusin.
HV: In terms of comic writers and artists: Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Paul Bolger, Brian Bolland, Pia Guerra. Beyond that: I try to read in as many formats and genres as possible. If you want to write science fiction you need to read about science, and I enjoy Oliver Sacks and Elizabeth Kolbert. In terms of novelists I love John Crowley, Marguerite Yourcenar, and Olga Tokarczuk. I also read a lot of poetry. I think comics and poetry have a lot in common in terms of concision and the importance of imagery. Adrienne Rich wrote a poem called “Phantasia for Elvira Shatayev” that I can’t help but imagine as a comic.
And finally, what’s coming up from you both next? Will we be seeing you in the Prog any time soon or have you other projects coming out?
HV: I’ve got a few more Future Shocks I’m mulling and hope to pitch, and a Judge Anderson outline out in the aether! After the New Rat City campaign wraps up (it’ll also be published by Scout Comics later this year, with a cover by our very own Lee Milmore, who was kind enough to do a fantastic one!), I’ll be getting back to working on Andraste, my historical fantasy series about Boudicca’s rebellion against the Romans. I’m also starting work on a new series, about a far-future Earth and the people living above and within it.
LM: Since completing Relict for 2000 AD I’ve been working with Dave Heely and Steve Macmanus on a strip for Blazer and am working on an Alan Hebden strip for Haunted scheduled for later this year. Both in The 77 camp. I have also done a cover for Honor’s New Rat City and have another lined up for her other book, the excellent Andraste which I intend to paint. As for anything else for the Prog, I have just signed up for a 3 part strip with the Prog – It’s been a great week so far!
Thank you so much to Honor and Lee for talking to us. We’re sure that you’re going to be blown away by their Future Shock: Relict and you can find it in the pages of 2000 AD Prog 2279, out on 27 April – get it wherever Thrill Power is sold, including the 2000 AD web shop.
And just one week later, you can see Honor’s second Future Shock: Smart Home, with the brilliant VV Glass on art, in 2000 AD Regened Prog 2280.