I was still in primary school when I was first made aware of Judge Dredd (somewhat painfully, as you will discover) – so I must have been around 10 or 11.
Whilst round the house of a classmate who was able to tolerate my presence, I happened upon a stack of 2000AD Monthly’s in the corner of his bedroom.
(This friend has since become an actor who I occasionally see on TV.
He crops up on things which I then don’t watch because it makes me uncomfortable seeing friends emote.)
It turns out the comics were probably handed down to him from his older brother – a theme which has become evident when recounting my introduction to geeky stuff (older brothers, as I think we’re all aware, have a lot to answer for).
The image of Judge Dredd leering menacingly on one particular cover I found immediately arresting (excuse the pun) so I picked it up for a closer examination.
I found myself confused by the characters motivations (bearing in mind my knowledge of comics up to this point was Richard Donner’s Superman films and Spiderman on TV).
From the scant few pages I’d read this Dredd fellow didn’t seem to indulge in the usual hero antics. The victims of crimes were often as likely to be sent away to the “cubes” as their assailants.
I asked my friend “What’s this Judge Dredd all about? Is he a hero or a baddie, or what?”
My friend considered his response for a moment and then, by way of explanation, punched me in the face.
I forget exactly what he said afterwards to back up his assertion, but I doubt it was nearly as accurate or as eloquent a description as his initial ejaculation.
The first Judge Dredd artist I took notice of?
Strangely, the first chap that caught my eye was not one of the more renowned artists (i.e. Brian Bolland) – it was Ron Smith.
I seem to remember my fist-happy friend was into Smith too at the time – I could have been in a suggestible state due to concussion.
At this point, in the mid to late 80s, Smith was not far from retirement. He’d been drawing comics since shortly after the war and throughout the 50s and 60s, including the popular girls comics Bunty (A mash-up of Dredd and Bunty, I think we’re all agreed, was a sorely missed opportunity).
With a background in engineering, his drawing style was very neat and controlled, with lots of line work and crosshatching amidst strongly composed panels incorporating large areas of black (often figures would be reduced to silhouettes while, somehow, still suggesting anatomy).
The drawing style is not unlike that found in the early Modesty Blaise strips.
I find children often equate how neat you are at drawing with how good you are at it – I’ve often received criticism about my own work on this basis from my daughter (on the rare occasions I’ve allowed her out of the chimney).
I can imagine this logic being applied by my younger self, so the “neatness” of his style would have appealed to me greatly as a 10-year-old.
Which artists took time to acquire a taste for?
A very good point of reference for all the artists mentioned in this post are the serials Block Mania and The Apocalypse War – collected together in graphic novel format as The Complete Apocalypse War.
So let’s begin at the top with the man who started it all…
Carlos Ezquerra, a huge naming comics and designer of Judge Dredd’s look, is actually the last artist to appear in the The Complete Apocalypse War.
His work is incredibly rough compared to Smith and I remember, in my youthful arrogance, being initially unable to see past the apparent crudeness of it.
I was especially confused by the dotted outlines he used on foreground characters. It looked like you were supposed to cut them out with a pair of scissors!
Despite my early reservations The Apocalypse War successfully bludgeoned me into seeing things Carlos’ way by the sheer quantity of it.
To illustrate this point it, The Complete Apocalypse War is 15 mm thick – 11 mm of which is Ezquerra!
His style perfectly suited the long, drawn out nature of the war. His coarse, textured ink work depicts the bombed out devastation exquisitely.
There’s something about reading a comic of that length all done in the same, consistent style which allows you to immerse yourself – a sad testament to the quality of my adolescence that my idea of escapism was a fictional apocalyptic conflict .
Hopping straight from the guy who finished the book, to the one who starts it – Mike McMahon.
In some ways the McMahon’s style is similar to Cam Kennedy’s (who incidentally, deserves a far more extensive Wikipedia page!) – quite abstracted and cartoony, with a disturbing solidity.
McMahon, however, seems to have turned his craziness dial up to 11 which, as we all know, is 1 better (That is, of course, a Spinal Tap reference and not a criticism of Cam Kennedy’s work!).
McMahon’s artwork in BlockMania doesn’t have many of the hallmarks of classic comic art – there’s not profuse amounts of anatomy on show (he prefers wrinkly clothes) and the rules of perspective are treated with a healthy contempt.
The end result is sculptural; Bits of white being hacked out of solid black shapes.
He uses this technique to great effect in his crowd scenes, depicting figures disappearing off into a solid black distance and angular, dangerous looking riot tanks.
Mike McMahon’s stuff , it should also be noted, is very funny – an important quality in a Judge Dredd artist.
Steve Dillon is the last on my list, he does a few episodes towards the end of BlockMania introducing the Sov Block agent Orlock to Mega City 1, and it’s probably my favourite of all his work.
What I love about Dillon’s stuff is his naturalistic posing of figures, especially groups of figures.
The characters have real weight to them and interact naturally with each other – especially when hitting each other!
The scenery and vehicles are also great, displaying a nice sense of design, solidity and light.
Out all the artists, Steve Dillon has probably travelled the best – I’ve seen his work appearing in more American comics than the others.
I’ve seen some great work on other publications he’s done, but, for me his black and white stuff in BlockMania is amongst his finest.
I give in – I am going to mention Brian Bolland
Despite the title of this post it would be ridiculous to suggest that Brian Bolland was not also a favourite Dredd artist of mine and, indeed, he does feature in The Complete Apocalypse War – delivering the final part of BlockMania with his customary style.
Now I come to think of it he also did the cover for BlockMania prog 236 which is a total classic – So in the end it was all just a shallow bid for controversy, wasn’t it!
I hope we all feel suitably cheapened.