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Si Spencer, 1961-2021

2000 AD is greatly saddened to hear that writer Si Spencer has passed away suddenly.

Si has worked for the Judge Dredd Megazine for many years, creating such memorable series as ‘Harke & Burr’ and ‘The Creep’, as well as ‘The Returners’, the supernatural series with artist Nicolo Assirelli currently running in the Megazine.

Originally from Sheffield, Si was inspired to write by his secondary school English teacher, Viv Nicholls, and eventually discovered 2000 AD. ‘After starting with the standard British funnies – Monster Fun, Whizzer and Chips, Cor and so on,’ he told the 2000AD.com blog in 2018, ‘and the old black and white Marvel reprints in Fantastic and Terrific. I gave up on comics in my teens and only came back to them in my twenties, when Tharg got me back into comics around 1979/80. I loved the Britishness, the total punk anarchy, the uniqueness of the art styles, the dynamism, the radical approach to old ideas. Just beautifully British.’

Introduced by a housemate to titles such as Warrior and Chester Brown’s Yummy Fur, Red Dwarf Smegazine artist Adrian Dungworth encouraged him to write comics and the pair launched their own self-published anthology title, called Sideshow, that featured their work alongside both new and established artists.

After starting on Fleetway’s mature title Crisis, editor Peter Hogan signed him up for the short-lived comic Revolver where two long series, ‘Stickleback’ and ‘YoYo were intended to run. Unfortunately, the magazine folded before they saw print.

He took over as editor for a year of Steve Dillon and Brett Ewins’ comics and music magazine Deadline from 1991, before handing over to Frank Wynne.

His debut for the Judge Dredd Megazine came in 1993 with the gothic ‘Harke & Burr’, painted by Dean Ormston. Based on a mutual love of old Universal movie monsters, Spencer described the strip – nominally set in The Cursed Earth of Judge Dredd’s world – as ‘a cross between Flog It and Dickinson’s Real Deal but set in Hell. With hot chicks and guns. And zombie capybaras.’

He wrote a ‘Judge Death’ strip for the 1991 Judge Dredd Mega-Special and ‘Mytek the Mighty’ for the 2000 AD Action Special, before co-creating ‘The Creep’ – another series about a malevolent supernatural mass murderer set in Dredd’s world, with eerie art by the late Kevin Cullen – reportedly a favourite of screenwriter and producer Russell T Davies. He also earned an unofficial writing credit for the final episode of Dredd-world space series ‘The Corps’ for 2000 AD, when series writer Garth Ennis lost interest in his own story.

Si did not join the new wave of British writers who crossed over to American comics in the mid-‘90s. Instead, after winning a ‘New Voices’ competition with his play ‘Tracey and Lewis’, he began an extensive career in television, beginning at the BBC as script editor on cop show City Central and, as a scriptwriter, working on Grange Hill, EastEnders and The Bill.

Years later he met Anglophile Vertigo editor Shelly Bond, who was a huge fan of EastEnders. Out of the blue she called him to offer the chance to work on Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic.

‘[The opportunity to work with Gaiman] is not the kind of offer you turn down,’ he told the Megazine. ‘Neil was looking to update [boy wizard] Tim Hunter from the The Books of Magic and see where his childhood adventures might have taken him as a young man. He wanted to see a big epic story about a war between worlds based on spurious belief systems. I wanted to write something big and angry about the situation in Iraq and the war there. I can’t think why those two ideas meshed!’

It began a long association with Vertigo and his series for the imprint include The Vinyl Underground with Simon Gane; Hellblazer: City of Demons with Sean Murphy; the award-winning Bodies with Meghan Hetrick, Dean Ormston, Tula Lotay and Phil Winslade; and Slash and Burn with Ande Parks, and Max Dunbar. In September 2015, SelfMadeHero published his graphic novel Klaxon, drawn by DIX.

In 2017, he returned to the Megazine with ‘HAVN’, with artists Jake Lynch and Henry Flint. The new series explored a so-called “perfect society” in Scandinavia in the world of Judge Dredd. This was followed by ‘The Returners’ in 2018, in which four different people in the South American city of Ciudad Barranquilla – academic Barrancourt, ex-Judge Mineiro, gangbanger Correira, and transgender street-walker Chavez – all awake from near-death experiences and discover that they can deal with the supernatural.

‘Part of the joy [of writing comics] is, of course, the natural urge to create and solve puzzles,’ he told the Megazine, ‘but in a broader sense writing fiction is playing God. Whether it’s something fairly low-level like The Sims or playing with dolls or toy soldiers as a kid or whether you’re looking at the deeper creative process of fiction, it’s clear that humans like to stamp their authority on things. We like to create worlds where things behave exactly as we tell them to, to impose order in a world of random processes and, best of all, create a world where that order is your order. Writers are just frustrated fascists, I guess; although that’s not strictly true because for me and I think most writers, the real joy is when the characters you’ve created start imposing their own wills and identities on proceedings and take the story off in new directions.

‘For readers, I think it’s the opposite impulse that people enjoy. They like to solve puzzles. In the broader scheme of things, though, the universe is still random processes and the more civilised and organised we become, the more that random element is taken from us. Our lives become repetitive and predictable and a writer or artist defies that by offering us surprise and intrigue.

‘A good artist uses that magic trick of surprise and intrigue for a purpose, to say something true and original about real life. Escapism is nice, but for me the best art informs who we are as people or illuminates what’s going on in our lives. It rationalises or explains things and [therefore] offers hope or insight.’ 

Strident, creative and incredibly intelligent but always friendly, funny and welcoming, Si will be sorely missed by everyone who knew him, his inventive writing was filled with great characters, abstract ideas, enthralling phantasmagoria, and – above all else – a great sense of humour.

‘As a twenty-year-old in the early nineties, I read and enjoyed Si’s stories in the Megazine, like ‘The Creep’ and ‘Harke & Burr’ – they added a sprinkle of the weird and uncanny to the mix,’ said 2000 AD and Judge Dredd Megazine editor Matt Smith. ‘When he got in touch in 2016 looking to pitch for the Meg again, I thought it would be a great opportunity to have one of the Meg’s writers from its formative days bringing again his unique sense of the strange and esoteric, which he did with the dark, unsettling ‘HAVN’ and ‘The Returners’ – completely unlike anything else in the anthology. He was a very talented writer with a rich imagination and sardonic sense of humour, and will be much missed.’

Everyone at 2000 AD sends their most heartfelt condolences to Si’s family and friends.

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Ellie deVille 1947-2019

We are deeply saddened to hear of the death of Ellie deVille, who passed away from cancer on Christmas Eve 2019 at the age of 72

One of 2000 AD‘s most prolific and longest-serving letterers, Ellie stood alongside Tom Frame, Annie Parkhouse, and Steve Potter, as one of the comic’s great letterers. Her death, coming so soon after her diagnosis, has been a huge blow for all those who knew and worked with her. Always the professional, Ellie was working on 2000 AD strips until just weeks before her passing.

Originally training as a teacher, Ellie (known as Ellie de Ville in 2000 AD‘s pages) began working for 2000 AD in 1992 on Tharg’s Future Shocks before working on numerous series such as The Ten-Seconders, Absalom, The Alienist, Ampney Crucis Investigates, Judge Anderson, Aquila, Asylum, Atavar, Bec & Kawl, Savage, Brass Sun, Caballistics, Inc., Cradlegrave, Defoe, the Judge Dredd/Batman crossover, Flesh, Rogue Trooper, Grey Area, Button Man, Jaegir, Kingdom, The Red Seas, Sinister Dexter, Sláine, Strontium Dog, Terror Tales, Past Imperfects, Tales of Telguuth, Tharg’s 3rillers, Time Twisters, The VCs, and many others.

Along with Elitta Fell and Tom Frame, Ellie was also one of the letterers on Fleetway’s Sonic the Comic, and she worked on many other titles such as Aliens, Batman, Flex Mentallo, The Invisibles, Lucifer, Conan, Star Wars, and Tank Girl.

The art of lettering is so easily overlooked when talking about comic book storytelling, but without clear, well-considered letters a book can easily become unreadable. Consistent, quick, professional, with a style that was instantly recognisable and entirely her own, Ellie’s talent was to make reading 2000 AD and so many other comics a joy.

Editor of 2000 AD Matt Smith, who worked with Ellie for two decades, said: “I had the privilege of working with Ellie for the last 20 years, and she was an absolute treasure – fast, reliable and professional. Back in 2001, she lived in the same part of Willesden that I did and in a deadline emergency I sometimes used to meet her at the tube station to pass her the files on a zip disk, like some surreptitious Thrill-power exchange. I’ll miss her enormously.”

Former 2000 AD designer Steve Cook, paid tribute to his friend: “‘Always look on the bright side of life’ and a rainbow emoji was what Ellie signed off with in the last email she sent to me from her hospice bed, and that sums her up perfectly. Ellie was one of those people who always had a positive and happy demeanour, and she was always there with an earnest ear for her friends, of which she had many. She was also incredibly talented and professionally reliable, and definitely the unsung heroine of the British (and occasionally American) comics business. When we were really up against it with deadlines at 2000 AD, she always delivered bang on time and saved our skins.

“Socially, Ellie made her home an open house to her friends, and she was always eager to spend the night dancing to uplifting music. One of my particularly fond memories was arriving at her house on a Saturday evening for a party and seeing lots of silhouettes of people dancing away inside, but absolutely no sound. It was only upon entering that I could see that they were all wearing headphones so as not to annoy the neighbours. Yes, Ellie predicted the Silent Disco!

“Ellie de Ville was incredibly special, and she’s already sorely missed.”

The condolences of everyone at 2000 AD and Rebellion go out to Ellie’s family and friends.

Donations in memory of Ellie may be sent either to the Marie Curie Hospice, Cardiff and the Vale, Bridgeman Road, Penarth CF64 3YR or donate at www.mariecurie.org.uk/donate

Photo used with kind permission of Steve Cook
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Nigel Dobbyn 1963-2019

Everyone at Rebellion is shocked and saddened to hear of the sudden death of artist Nigel Dobbyn at the age of 56.

Based in the north east of England, Dobbyn’s first works for 2000 AD were a trio of Future Shocks in 1988. These were followed by his debut on new space medical series, Medivac 318, written by Hilary Robinson and based on her previous writing.

The series, which followed an ambulance crew working in the midst of an interplanetary war, showcased Dobbyn’s unmistakeable style, his strong storytelling and clear lines giving all of his work a solidity and openness that was often at odds with the prevailing fashions in comic art at the time.

His colour work was bold and striking but also grounded and earthy – his work on future eco-cop series Trash (Progs 760 to 770), written by Paul Kupperberg, contrasted the greys of urban decay with lush greens and bright flower colours. He also had a skill for action and his work on Red Razors with Mark Millar and Garth Ennis’ Strontium Dogs stories featuring Johnny Alpha and Wulf Sternhammer’s furry sidekick Gronk, as well as Peter Hogan’s spell on the strip, demonstrated his ability to draw convincing, involved and energetic action scenes. He recently returned to 2000 AD for a series of single Ace Trucking Co. stories.

His style was just as easily adaptable to comics aimed at children and young peple and, thanks to his connections with former 2000 AD editor Richard Burton and writer Nigel Kitching, in the 1990s Dobbyn began work on Sonic the Comic, based on the massively popular Sonic the Hedgehog video game character, and later became a permanent feature of the line-up alongside artists such as Richard Elson. He worked on Dark Horse’s Digimon, Classical Comics’ Shakespeare adaptations, and Panini’s Spiderman and Friends. He also wrote and drew Billy the Cat for The Beano and produced the art for a graphic novel adaptation of Nightrise by Anthony Horowitz.

He recently worked on a series of three HP Lovecraft-inspired books for Arcturus Publications, Goblin Princess for Redan’s Sparkle World magazine, and Norse myth-based strip 28AR for new comic strip anthology Brawler. He wrote and drew the Saxon Princess comic strip on display at Kirkleatham Museum in Redcar and was working on a strip for digital anthology Aces Weekly.

Matt Smith, editor of 2000 AD, said: “Everyone here at 2000 AD was shocked and saddened to hear of Nigel’s death, and our deep condolences got out to his family. He was fantastically adept artist, equally capable of conveying the deep-space drama of Medivac 318 as he was the manic energy of the Strontium Dogs Gronk stories. A regular contributor to the Prog during the 1990s, his clear storytelling, strong lines and bold colours made him an instantly recognisable presence. Although he’d dropped out of the comic in the noughties, he came back recently to draw some Ace Trucking one-offs, and he did a beautiful job on the characters, instilling the pages with the humour and action he did so well.” 

The deepest sympathies and condolences of everyone at 2000 AD and Rebellion go out to Nigel’s family and friends.

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Ron Smith 1924-2019

2000 AD is greatly saddened to confirm that artist Ron Smith has passed away.

A Spitfire pilot during World War Two, Ron began his career in animation before moving into comics for Amalgamated Press, then DC Thomson, before moving to 2000 AD and Judge Dredd.

During 2000 AD’s 1980s heyday, he was one of the five iconic Dredd artists alongside Carlos Ezquerra, Mick McMahon, Brian Bolland, and Steve Dillon, and many of the strip’s most unforgettable moments– from The Judge Child Quest to UnAmerican Graffiti, from The Hotdog Run to The Day the Law Died – have the name and style of Ron Smith stamped all over them.

The most prolific Dredd artist in the character’s history, from 1981 Ron also drew the daily strip for the Daily Star newspaper – one of the longest running in British newspaper history – which showcased his talents perfectly as he compressed entire epics down into a handful of panels.

His style deftly mixed action, humour, and pathos. Thanks in part to his seemingly incongruous ‘punk’ eye for design, Smith was the bizarre, warped imagination that took the biting satire of John Wagner and Alan Grant’s scripts and turned the city into a character of its own. He, arguably more than anyone else, defined the citizens of Mega-City One with characters such as Chopper, Otto Sump, Dave the Orangutan mayor, Pug Ugly And The Bugglys, The Stupid Gun, Citizen Snork, the Blobs, and so many more. And above it all stood his vision of Dredd – lithe, athletic, stoic, but with a knack for the darkly comic.

Even at a furious rate of work, the quality of his art rarely – if ever – dipped. Close up, his lines are clean and precise, panels perfectly balanced and yet losing none of their energy, their remarkable movement or scale.

2000 AD has lost another of its most treasured artists, a man whose unique work entertained millions over the course of five decades and who is sorely missed.

Matt Smith, 2000 AD’s current editor, said: ‘Ron was one of the artistic stalwarts of 2000 AD during the 1980s, and his Judge Dredd strips in particular were instrumental in making the Galaxy’s Greatest the cult, counter-cultural game-changer that redefined British comics. Like Carlos Ezquerra, his style was uniquely his own – you never mistook a Ron Smith strip – and he filled his panels with comical grotesques, his Mega-City One full of living, breathing loons. Capable of amazingly detailed work – check out his episodes of ‘Block Mania’, where he dealt with thousands of rioting citizens – and professional to a fault, it’s no wonder he was one of Tharg’s regular go-to Dredd guys. A 2000 AD legend, he will be greatly missed by fans and fellow creators alike.’

Born in 1924 in Bournemouth, Ron was forbidden from going to art college as a young man and followed his father into engineering but his studies were interrupted by the outbreak of World War Two. Enlisting as a pilot with the Empire Flying Training Programme, by 1945 he was a Spitfire pilot, seeing action in Europe as part of the Army Co-operation Air Squadron. Demobbed in 1947, he got work at J Arthur Rank’s Gaumont British Animation Studio, working at Moor Hall in Berkshire on animated shorts in the Disney style, such as Animaland and Musical Paintbox. When Gaumont’s owners, the Rank Corporation, went bust in 1949, Smith headed for London and, even before finding lodgings, went to the offices of publishing behemoth Amalgamated Press, where he got his first comics work on Sun and Knockout before moving on to Western comics, such as Comet.

Head-hunted in 1952 by AP’s main rival, DC Thomson, Ron moved with his wife to a company house just outside the firm’s headquarters in Dundee, Scotland. He then spent 21 years drawing everything from historical epics and cracking yarns in Adventure, Hotspur and Topper, to romance and slice-of-life tories for Bunty and Judy. In 1976, he created King Cobra, DC Thomson’s first superhero in the American style, which was a massive hit with readers, showing off Ron’s inventiveness and knack for action.

Moving back to Surrey, he became a fully-fledged freelancer and it was during this time that he further developed the lightning-fast working techniques that allowed him to churn out illustration after book cover after comic strip. He told the Judge Dredd Megazine about his famous technique in 2009: ‘People talk about this alarm clock – that is actually very real. The only thing that an artist can control is his hourly rate; you’ve got a fixed page, so right from the start they said to me a page of cartoons is ten pound and I had worked out that to survive in London I needed two pounds an hour, so you just divide one into the other and so you’ve got to do a page in five hours. So you set the clock, and you may not finish it but you start to get into this rhythm.

‘It used to be three pages, not six, and when I finished I was up to twenty pounds an hour – two hundred pounds a page, ten hours. But still with the alarm clock. This kept me going and meant that the bank always saw a similar amount coming in at the end of each month, because it was very hard to get banks to do things for you when you’re a freelance artist.

‘When it went ping I would literally put that page down and start on the next one. And then I would go back and sit up late at night, which is outside of my hours, and finish it off. But this got me into this way of working that meant that I could live this little middle-class life with four daughters, put them through school and on to university. Having the agent do all the leg work also meant I was sitting at home earning more of his twenty per cent – better to get him to do the leg work.’

As well as providing painted album covers for Def Leppard and Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Ron also worked Marvel UK on the TV tie-in series such as Transformers, Zoids and Mask, before moving off Dredd and onto Chronos Carnival, the early ’90s re-imagining of Rogue Trooper, Mean Team, and Harlem Heroes.

Married twice, Ron had four daughters. After retiring due to problems with his eyesight, Ron suffered from Parkinson’s and moved into a care home in Leatherhead, where he passed away in the early hours of the morning on 10th January 2019.

Everyone at 2000 AD sends his family their deepest condolences.

‘We all follow the Yellow Brick Road,’ Ron told the Megazine in 2009, ‘we’re all off to see the wizard and you should just stay on course, even if people say it’s a bloody stupid thing to do – if you’re genetically programmed, bloody go for it. It’s all part of that road… and this has been a part of mine. Yet there but for the grace of God go I.’

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Carlos Ezquerra 1947-2018

2000 AD is profoundly saddened to confirm that artist Carlos Ezquerra has passed away at the age of 70.

One of the all-time greatest comic book artists, the Spanish illustrator was one of the titans of 2000 AD.

Originally from Zaragoza, Carlos began his career in Barcelona, drawing westerns and war stories for Spanish publishers. Breaking into the UK market on romance titles like Valentine and Mirabelle, he was head-hunted for the new IPC title Battle Picture Weekly where he drew Rat Pack, Major Eazy and El Mestizo.

In 1976, he was asked to create a new character, the future lawman Judge Dredd, for a new weekly science fiction comic called 2000 AD. Thanks to his enduring partnership with John Wagner, Dredd was to become one of the world’s most recognisable comic book characters, with Carlos there to apply his inimitable style to some of the biggest stories in the strip’s history, such as The Apocalypse War, Necropolis and Origins.

Thanks to Dredd as well as his co-creation of Strontium Dog, created for Starlord in 1978, his adaptation for 2000 AD of Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat, and thousands upon thousands of comic book pages, Carlos was lauded by readers and creators alike.

Modest and unassuming, Carlos was nonetheless a legend whose contribution to the global comic book industry cannot be overstated. His distinctive style – characterised by breathtakingly dynamic, high-energy storytelling and the distinctive ridged thick inking that outlined so many key moments – was instantly recognisable.

Despite a brush with lung cancer in 2010, he continued to work and, although the cancer returned this year it was believed he was recovering well. His sudden death is a profound loss not just to 2000 AD but to the comic book medium.

A statement on behalf of the staff at 2000 AD:

“It is difficult to put this into words, but we have lost someone who was the heart and soul of 2000 AD. It is no exaggeration to call Carlos Ezquerra one of the greatest comic book artists of all time, and his name deserves to be uttered alongside Kirby, Ditko, Miller, Moebius, and Eisner.

“Yet this doesn’t really do justice to someone whose work was loved by millions and has had an influence far beyond the comic book page. From Judge Dredd to Strontium Dog, from Rat Pack to Major Eazy, Carlos has left us with a legacy of stunning and distinctive work that was and always will be 2000 AD.

“He has been one of the pillars, producing the same dynamic, enthralling and arresting art we always loved him for. We thought we had many more adventures to come from the master, so we are devastated to discover we were wrong.

“Our most profound condolences to his family, his friends, and to the generations of readers who knew instantly they were reading a Carlos Ezquerra comic book.”

Matt Smith, editor of 2000 AD, said: “Carlos’s artwork spoke to me as soon as I saw it.

“I only started reading 2000 AD in 1985, but four progs after my first Strontium Dog story ‘Big Bust of 49’ began, and I was immediately hooked – powerful, clear and concise in its storytelling, full of energy and humour, and effortlessly cool, his distinctive linework soon became instantly recognisable to this newbie Squaxx whenever he worked on a strip, and he fast became a favourite. The Apocalypse War, Portrait of a Mutant, The Killing, Necropolis… so many great, great stories that came to life under his pen.

“Amazingly, seventeen years later, I became editor of 2000 AD, and had the absolute pleasure of working with the man himself, and he was as pleasant, generous and unprepossessing as he was talented. It’s hard to believe that his work will no longer grace the prog, since he played such a formidable part in what makes the comic so special, but his legacy will live on, for future generations to enjoy.”

Jason Kingsley, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Rebellion, said: “It is hard to put into words the influence Carlos’s work has had on me over the years. He may be physically gone from us, but the huge legacy of his creative abilities lives on. My personal condolences to his family.”