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In Dredd’s long and illustrious career we’ve seen many a female Judge stepping up to the plate, from Anderson to McGruder, but the iconic British strip has never been written by a woman. Until now.
2000 AD, a sci-fi anthology that has run continuously since 1977, has enjoyed a reputation for creating fantastic women characters (Halo Jones!) in the various strips that focus on personality first, and gender last. Judge Anderson is perhaps the most well known example, and her portrayal in the 2012 film Dredd by Olivia Thirlby cemented that wonderfully by showing her as Dredd’s equal in every respect – including costume. In fact that very under-appreciated film is one of the strongest comic book movies of all time in terms of gender politics, carried out in a very “no big deal” manner.
It’s little wonder then that women make up a significant sector of the 2000 AD readership, and yet despite both the wealth of women characters in the book, and the number of women creators in the UK, it’s also long held a reputation as being a boys club when it comes to writers and artists.
You can imagine my delight then in our roundtable review of Prog 1824 last month when I saw Emma Beeby’s name attached to a new strip, Survival Geeks. I first came across Beeby a couple of years ago at Glasgow Comic Con, and she is perhaps best known for her Doctor Who audio stories along with her co-writer both there and at 2000 AD, Gordon Rennie. Rennie of course has been writing great stories at 2000 AD for years, and is thrilled to be working with Beeby.
Not only is this the first time Judge Dredd has been written by a woman, but Suicide Watch also sees the introduction of the strips first ever Muslim Mega-City One Judge, Judge Hamida. It’s really refreshing to see a publisher stepping up to the plate in terms of diversity both on the page and behind it, and with a world of solid and well-rendered characters at 2000 AD, I hope it leads to the progs being read by an even wider audience.
As with all Judge Dredd strips, Suicide Watch is completely readable to newcomers while containing elements of previous storylines. The city is decimated since the Day of Chaos events with 87% of the population wiped out, and Suicide Watch looks at the psychological damage to the survivors as suicide cults become ever more popular in the desperate slums.
Something worse though is hunting in the shadows, something that Dredd can’t quite remember… Psi-Judge Hamida is on the case!
Suicide Watch will be told in three episodes, with the first appearing in Prog 1826 this very week.
Judge Dredd: Suicide Watch (Prog 1826-1828) Writer: Gordon Rennie, Emma Beeby Artist: Paul Davidson Colourist: Chris Blythe Letters: Annie Parkhouse Editor: Tharg the Mighty, Matt Smith Publisher: 2000 AD
2000AD, the British anthology comic, announced that their most recent issue – last Wednesday’s prog 2814 – would be an easy jump-on point for anybody. Anyone can pick it up and get an idea of what 2000AD is all about, what the writing style is like, and how the stories work.
So, that came across like a bit of a challenge really.
With only an inch of haste, we gathered many of The Beat’s reviewers into Pentangle Formation and promptly all jumped on. Some of us have been reading 2000AD for years, some have jumped in and out – I myself only have a recent knowledge of it, having started sporadically picking up issues last year. The idea was that we could all jump on – so with that in mind, what did we all jump on to?
Hannah Means-Shannon: New to 2000AD
I’ve never read 2000AD proper before, though I have a couple collections that intrigued me, and many friends who have rooms full of progs. It’s an embarrassment of riches that does make it hard to find a jumping on point, and so, in my case, I kept putting it off. I’m happy with the contents page of Prog 1824 and I think it creates a sense of orientation for the reader. We’ve got Tharg announcing that he’s the editor, and also running through the included story titles and author/artist credits. Then the contents column breaks the stories down a little by providing the classic recap on characters and the original creators of those tales. I noticed that each synopsis there actually gives the time and location setting for the stories, too, all very helpful.
JUDGE DREDD: “Cypher” wasn’t my first experience of Dredd since I’ve been reading the newish IDW series, but would do well to give the reader a sense of who Dredd is in a general sense, as well as the chaotic world that he moves in. The artwork is strong and as well as packing in plenty of dynamic action, we get some apocalyptic long-shots to build atmosphere. I also found the colors very appealing, sharp and rich.
DANDRIDGE: “The Copper Conspiracy” didn’t talk down to the newbie reader, but jumped right into the premises of its universe while dropping instructional detail about Dandridge’s role a as a ghost, the focus on magical objects, and the globe-trotting potential of the storyline. I particularly liked the over-the-top characterization of Dandridge, making him recognizable in any story context.
THARG’S 3RILLERS: “Survival Geeks” sold me on the artwork, but didn’t appeal to me right away, almost certainly because it deals in so many Geek stereotypes. It traced a fine line between funny and predictable, until the entire household of Geeks was introduced, then I found it a little more appealing. I liked the premise that the world could seem “normal” but be vastly altered in another dimension and the way that reality moved quickly into the narrative.
The real shell-shock admiration I felt for Prog 1824 was STICKLEBACK: “Number of the Beast”. Now I get what people were hinting at about his return. The artwork is mind-blowing. I would buy the prog just for this story (which explains why he’s on the cover too). This narrative by Ian Edginton and D’Israeli displayed a lot of the strengths of the other stories but went further. It loaded on the expository detail, crammed in the intricate detail in the panels, and also suggested continuity with past stories that might lead me back to other progs to find out more. The artwork on the library scene alone made me pause for several minutes. I like the moral ambiguity of the Stickleback character and the as of yet unanswered questions posed.
So, how does it all work as a jumping on point? I was fine: no problems understanding the characters or the stories, but I might have found it a little more of a collision of worlds if I hadn’t read the contents page first. Instead, I found myself asking, “How would long-term readers view this? Too obvious and basic for them?” I don’t think so – there’s enough commitment to quality in the storytelling and the engaging artwork to make it worth their while, too.
Todd Allen: 2000AD Veteran
While it may be a jumping on point, 2000AD took another page from Marvel Now and started out a few stories where I wasn’t entirely sure where they were starting from. (Like not having read Avengers Vs. X-Men was a bit of a stumbling point for several of the relaunches.)
Judge Dredd is dealing with political fallout from a previous storyline. Stickleback is resurrected, but I’m a little fuzzy on who/what he’s supposed to be past some sort of boss crook in a supernaturally influenced world. Dandridge did a little better job of setting it up in an interesting way. Survival Geeks starts from the beginning, though.
I thought Dandridge was the pick of the of litter with a clear, whimsical attitude to the strip. I suspect I’d like Stickleback more after a few more pages, once I get a better feel for what it’s supposed to be. Dredd is Dredd, and his own genre. I like Survival Geeks more than I usually like the Tharg’s 3hrillers/Time Twisters/Future Shock material, but that’s not what I usually look to 2000 AD for.
Interestingly, Judge Dredd was the most serious strip this time out, with a low-satire installment, though Dredd will hit all over the spectrum from story to story.
Henry Barajas: New to 2000AD
The story that sold book for me is Dandridge. I really enjoyed the set up and introduction to the outlandish British super spy. My only complaint is that the story wasn’t long enough. The beginning was long winded and I could care less about the premise, but it wasn’t until the last two pages of the story where I felt engaged. With witty dialogue, Alec Worley told a good joke and Warren Pleece’s smooth panel to panel transitions executed the punch line. Dandridge’s a jolly good time, and made good enough bait to hook me for the next issue.
I could have done without DREDD. This story is so predictable.
THARG’S 3RILLERS focused too much on the cultural references and lacked any kind of depth.
Laura Sneddon: Vintage 2000 AD Fan
As a trade reader, I’m familiar with the Dredd strips of old and some other titles including The Ballad of Halo Jones and Rogue Trooper and so forth. What I hadn’t previously tried was a weekly edition of the prog (save for my treasured collection of Zenith issues!), so the idea of a good jumping on issue was really appealing to me.
The cover caught my immediate attention as I recognised the work of the wonderful D’Israeli (SVK), but resisted diving straight for that story. Despite being a huge Dredd fan, his story didn’t quite grip me as an opening gambit, though the character of Pax does have me intrigued. Dandridge too was not to my style, though I sense it will be popular. Such is the problem with anthology titles, alas.
Survival Geeks on the other hand won me over immediately, with really relatable characters and genuine freshness. Of course I almost always enjoy Gordon Rennie’s work, and it was a thrill to see a story co-written by Emma Beeby. This strip had an almost Doctor Who type vibe and I’m keen to see where it goes!
My clear winner though was the wonderful Stickleback, and I’ve already ordered the tpbs I need to catch up (not necessary to follow the story as presented here, but required for my brain to purr). Utterly beautiful, this has a classy European vibe and a gloriously unsettling dark edge.
Zainab Akhtar: Trade Reader
2000AD have been advertising this issue as a jumping on point for new readers, and as someone who’s never previously read an issue, I would both heartily agree and recommend doing so. My previous sojourns with the prog have all been in trade format: Stickleback, Mazeworld, Cradlegrave, Leviathan to name a few favourites, so I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was very impressed. I’m wary of anthology formats, but happily, it works fine here, with four stories of about 6 pages each. That means not having to divide my attention between too many strips, and the length is enough to keep you engaged and interested whilst giving an ample chunk of story.
What’s more, all four stories work, too. I’m not a Judge Dredd fan, but we get a rather nifty chase scene and that particular world is quickly established for the unfamiliar. It helps that it’s a pretty straightforward opening with no intricacies. Inaki Miranda’s art and Eva de la Cruz’s art and colours provide the strongest art in the book. Dandridge is entertaining enough, but I’m not really feeling the flamboyant supernatural spy formula. Tharg’s 3rillers on the other hand, I loved: it’s a lot of fun, with some nicely drawn dinosaurs and a bit of inter dimensions/time travelling thrown in, which pretty much guarantees my interest.
But let’s be honest: what I was most excited about here was the return of Stickleback (pick up the trade if you can- it’s excellent). I really like that Edginton’s thrown us for a bit of a loop: I was expecting some quickly explained death escape and back to business, but Stickleback the man? thing? has changed, as has the world around him… It may be a little murky to the new reader, but it’s still accessible, I would think.
A final verdict then: very, very impressed with the issue, and it’s one I’ll be picking up in print and following, for the next installment at the least.
Steve Morris: Knows who Judge Dredd is
It’s a good issue to jump on with,although you are jumping into established characters rather than new pitches from 2000AD. The Dredd strip here is technically exploring the fallout of a previous storyline, for example, and the ramifications it had on Dredd’s world. Out of the four stories, three of them require a little explanation for new readers. The creative teams all handle this easily, though, with Dandridge especially well set up – keeping the main character absent until the end means he can be extravagantly hyped before new readers actually gets to see him, but also acts as a great joke for fans already aware of the character. With each strip only moving five/six pages at a time, Dandridge does a rather fantastic job of using those pages well.
Dredd is a little less efficient, starting off with what seemed like a promising storyline which is promptly interrupted by an action sequence. When firing on all fronts, Dredd is usually able to mix storytelling, satire and action together into a big pulpy stew – here we get an action sequence, which is fun if not a little simple.
Similarly, the first part of Survival Geeks struggled a little with the satire and humour. While the story itself is fun enough, the characters all seem to have wandered in off the set of The Big Bang Theory, with the strip prizing the idea that comic/sci-fi fans can’t function in normal conversation with normal people. The art was really nice though, and I did enjoy some of the one-liners.
Stickleback was perhaps my favourite of the strips, though, nipping a old-fashioned tone with startling artwork and a main character who walks and talks like a Noel Fielding creation. It’s silly and well staged, and I enjoyed it a lot. I’m already onboard for 2000AD, but this issue struck me as a fairly decent launching point for new readers to come on in and try things out.
An SDCC announcement which mainly seems to have been announced on CBR and not as SDCC, IDW have revealed that their much-teased new Judge Dredd series will be written by Duane Swierczynski! Which, perfect casting surely. Art will be provided by Nelson Daniel, and the first issue is out in November.
What will the series be like? Given Swierczynski’s past novels, and his run on Cable, it’ll be rather gritty. In the CBR interview posted now before anybody had a chance to mention it at the con, he says
I’d like IDW’s Dredd to feel like a transgressive sci-fi black comedy police procedural — like ‘Law & Order,’ if, say, Jerry Orbach were a violent inflexible fascist
Swierczynski and Daniel’s series will be set in the past, looking back at some of the Judge’s earliest perp-shooting jollies, with back-ups for each issue drawn by people like Jim Starlin. It will be violent! And angry. And the helmet doesn’t look like it’s coming off anytime soon. No sign of Rob Schneider yet.
Last Wednesday’s issue of 2000AD was special not just because I don’t think any serialised comic has ever had an issue one thousand, eight hundred and twenty-one before, but also because it’s the 36th anniversary for the prog. To celebrate, the issue features some Judge Dredd, a little Strontium Dog, and a new Brian Bolland cover what looks like this:
With 2000AD now available digitally, more Yanks are able to read it than before – but if you haven’t had a chance to try it yet, I’ll give you a brief explanation of what it’s about. 2000AD is a weekly anthology magazine, which features roughly 4-5 different stories, all of which are around 5-6 pages long at a time. As such, each story is completed over the course of perhaps a month or two, with the more successful strips – Judge Dredd, mainly – then continuing on for the next story immediately afterwards. It’s focused on sci-fi and action, with an emphasis on futuristic dystopias and things getting blown up.
The Bolland cover is one of only two concessions this issue makes to the 36th anniversary for the magazine, with the issue being business as usual. Judge Dredd is the first story – here telling a prologue story setting up what seems to be the next big storyline starting next week – followed by four other strips all midway through their respective stories.
The second concession is a celebratory letters page (what better way to celebrate?) at the end of the prog, which actually tends to be one of my favourite parts of any given issue. 2000AD is edited by an alien called Tharg, who speaks in neologisms and likes to threaten and celebrate the readers simultaneously. It’s, erm… you get used to it.
Of the stories contained in this issue –
Pat Mills and Patrick Goddard’s ‘Savage’ is currently at part 8 of the ongoing storyline, although it seems quite easy to pick up – future dystopia, resistance fighters trying to hit back at the Government, and so on. The most distinguishing part of this story is actually Goddard’s art, which keeps moving from influence to influence in my eyes, whilst remaining something of his own. At times you can see what appears to be aspects of Brian Bolland and Howard Chaykin, mixed with a bit of John Cassaday too. It’s a thoroughly expressive style, and Mills has caught onto it nicely, setting up some character moments for Goddard to excel at.
Ian Edgington and Simon Davis are the artistic team for Ampney Crucis Investigates. Again, I think I can fill out the basic gist of the story, even though we’re currently at part ten. And again, the art somewhat overshadows the story, with Davis offering a surprisingly vivid colouring of his own work which creates a tripped-out vibe to the story, making it feel dreamlike and almost etherial. This is a big fight scene, and the colouring helps push the reader along despite a few moments where the storytelling itself is a little obtuse and hard to follow along.
More confusing is Edginton’s second story in the issue, The Red Seas, with artist Steve Yeowell. This story is also ten parts into the story – and it makes no attempt to hide that. I was rather locked out of this strip, with a storyline which doesn’t explain the circumstances the characters are in, or differenciate the leads. Yeowell’s art is nice, but doesn’t help the reader follow the story – there’s a moment where a rescuer suddenly appears to help the heroes, but Yeowell puts the character in the background, without any distinctive detail on their face to make them recognisable. There are also a few issues with perspective, as far as I can tell. It’s sketchy, and probably best left to people who have read the previous nine parts.
Strontium Dog closes out the issue, a long-running 2000AD character written by John Wagner and drawn by Carlos Ezquerra. Much like in Ampney Crucis, this is a fight issue, with the main character in the middle of some kind of mutant vs humans war. This is classically Wagner in tone and style, with some fun jokes mixed in with a strong sci-fi lean. Lots of violence and warfare, some stirring speeches, and a very quick read indeed. It’s a fun final strip, although it does fly by very quickly.
And finally, a word on Judge Dredd, who opens the issue. This story serves as a prelude to whatever might be coming up over the next few months, and writer Michael Carroll does a good job in setting up something interesting. The impact of the story is due to a very strong last page, which delivers a really interesting cliffhanger for next week’s issue, but Carroll also manages to evoke the style of Judge Dredd whilst throwing in some of his own jokes and ideas. It’s a nice opening piece, drawn entertainly by Andrew Currie, with colours by Chris Blythe.
Annie Parkhouse and Ellie De Ville have been in charge of lettering 2000AD for a long time now, and they both have an excellent grasp on each story, serving the narrative whilst allowing the art to show off the characters and stories. They’re the unsung heroes of 2000AD, so I just wanted to, y’know, sing about them a bit.
2000AD issue 1821 is business as usual for the prog – an entertaining mix of stories and art styles, with a string of high concept ideas and great gags. It’s also amazing how easily most of the stories allow a reader to jump in fresh, without being too confused by what’s going on. I’ve been jumping on at random points for a few months now, to see what’s going on, and every time I find myself enjoying the majority of the stories, no matter where their narrative is or what I’ve missed out on prior. Really, that seems to be the success of 2000AD – after 1821 issues, it’s still offering something for everyone.
Steve Morris is… trying out one of these things where you self-promote yourself after an article you wrote. I have a webcomic! It’s called Stardark City. It’s lovely and I hope you might want to read it maybe sometime? You can also shout at me on Twitter, @stevewmorris.
Every so often Tharg gets on the blower and gives me a ring, to tell me about new things coming up at 2000AD, the comics magazine he edits. And today he had something rather exciting to show me – this teaser image from Greg Staples, showing Judge Dredd villain Judge Death…
Judge Death is probably the most famous villain in 2000AD’s history, having first been created by John Wagner and Brian Bolland. 2000AD have previously revealed that Wagner will be returning to the world of Judge Dredd – and Judge Death in particular – this year, and it looks like the time has almost arrived! Quake! Fear!
Mike Molcher is the PR Co-ordinator for Rebellion, meaning he is the man directly responsible for promoting their comics, 2000AD and Judge Dredd Megazine. If you’ve noticed over the last few months that more people are talking about 2000AD, be it the recent ‘Trifecta’ storyline, or the ‘gay Judge Dredd’ teaser which got picked up everywhere – that’s Mike Molcher’s work. He’s also an interviewer and writer himself, who has interviewed many of the key figures who have worked at 2000AD over the years, including Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Dave Gibbons and Carlos Ezquerra.
But how do you go about promoting a company like 2000AD, which releases a new anthology EVERY WEEK? I spoke to Mike about his work with the company, to see how exactly he goes about promoting the series. And what is comic book marketing, anyway? How does it work? Is this interview secretly all part of his marketing plan?
By reading this, have we become trapped in Mike Molcher’s sinister plans for 2000AD to take over the world? Oh dear…
Steve: I’ll start with a self-sabotaging question: since 2005 you’ve been involved with interviewing some of the most influential 2000 AD creators – from Alan Moore to Carlos Ezquerra. What makes for a good interview?
Mike: Oof, tough start! I can’t say mine are particular exemplars of good practice so I can only speak about the interviews I enjoy reading – they tend to be the ones that actually stray away from what’s on the comic book page to what’s going on in the mind of the creator, what motivates them, what inspires them, what grinds their gears. By uncovering these things the interviewer can begin to form a picture of the roots of that person’s creativity. Talent and ability never exist in isolation, they have always come from somewhere (usually thanks to a lot of hard work) and it’s the people of comics that I find most fascinating. I like to think my interviews try and achieve that (he said, nervously).
Steve: Before you took on your current role, you worked as a features writer for 2000 AD. How did you first come to get involved with the company in this respect?
Mike: I think it was Matt Badham who first mentioned to me that 2000 AD was looking for creator interviews and features. At the time I was a local newspaper reporter in the north of England but had started up my own self-published magazine, The End is Nigh, which took a Fortean Times-style look at end-of-the-world theories. I’d interviewed Alan Moore about the apocalyptic aspects of his work and his ideas on the approaching human singularity, so I did a retrospective on him for the Judge Dredd Megazine. That opened the door to interviews and I’ve been doing them ever since. Fortunately it meant that when I applied for the job they already knew me and knew that I was a big 2000 AD fan.
Steve: Obviously, your goal as a features writer is to promote and flesh out the company you’re writing for at the time. Do you think there’s a natural step between journalism and PR? How do you alternate between the two?
Mike: I don’t know what it’s like in the States, but you’ll find many of the big names in PR in Britain started out as journalists in some respect. Personally, I’d say that firsthand experience of what goes on inside the head of a journalist and what makes a good story is invaluable when you’re trying to reach out to reporters and reviewers. I continue to write creator interviews in my spare time for the Judge Dredd Megazine and Comic Heroes, so personally I think one compliments the other, because it keeps me abreast of what’s going on in the industry and how we can use that to our advantage at work.
Steve: Only a short while ago you moved to become Rebellion’s PR Co-ordinator. What sort of work does this involve on a day-to-day basis?
Mike: Answering a LOT of emails, mostly. 2000 AD represents just part of my work so I spend a lot of time writing press releases for new titles and announcements, keeping the social media side of things flowing, running blog tours for our three novel imprints, keeping track of the development of the various games Rebellion are working on, plus trying to work out new opportunities to promote our products. Fortunately we’ve recently taken on a marketing coordinator, Robbie Cooke, whose focus is more on the games side of things so he’s been a massive help with that.
Steve: Rebellion don’t just publish 2000 AD/Judge Dredd, but also handle novels and computer games. How do you structure your time between the three?
Mike: With a rather heavily annotated diary, a lot of scheduling, and an increasingly wrinkled brow. Working across three different industries can be pretty mad at times and making sure I give equal time to every new title and product can be damn hard work. Ultimately I have to judge whether something needs a slight PR nudge to sell or a heavy marketing shove out the door…
Steve: The Dredd movie came out last year, giving you a unique opportunity for promotion on a wider field. How did the movie affect the way you promoted the comics?
Mike: I very quickly learned that ANY mention of movies gets people really excited – our most shared image on Facebook was one I did publicizing the fact that DREDD was number one in the DVD and Blu-Ray charts over here and even the slightest mention of the movie would get a huge response. We’re constantly asked whether there are movies coming for our other characters, so it seems the magic of film hasn’t exactly diminished in the digital age!
We obviously went heavy on the promotion of Judge Dredd to tie in to the movie and that’s really paid off – the collected ‘Case Files’ have been flying off the shelves on both sides of the Atlantic – but I have tried to make sure that when someone discovers 2000 AD for the first time they quickly see that it’s not all about Dredd, as loveable as he is. We have a huge and constantly growing back catalogue of some of the greatest characters in comics, from Halo Jones to Nemesis the Warlock and more recent things like Shakara, Low Life and Brass Sun.
Steve: Were there any promotional campaigns you were surprised to see get less attention than others? Do you find, when promoting a comic to a film audience, there was a difference in reaction than when you promote more directly to comic fans?
Mike: Nikolai Dante ended last year after 14 years. And when I say ended, writer Robbie Morrison and artist Simon Fraser brought the Russian rogue’s story to a close. In effect, we killed off one of our most popular characters. And he ain’t coming back. For a comic book to do something as bold as that, I thought, deserved more attention – alas, no-one really picked up on the announcement. It may be that he never had the right profile outside of 2000 AD, but by the time I came on board it was a bit late to change the situation.
I don’t think there’s a big difference in the way you talk to the two audiences other than reminding yourself that the film audience won’t be as conversant in the language and culture of comics as someone who’s been reading them for years. The biggest question we got was “I loved the movie, where do I start reading?”. We were very fortunate that someone can see DREDD then walk into their local comic book and walk out with a comic featuring the same character they saw on screen; Karl Urban and Alex Garland nailed the character of Judge Dredd so perfectly that it was like he’d leapt off the page. So marketing to fans of the film was a case of giving them a good starting point (The Complete Case Files #4, if you’re interested, then #5 and then pick up a copy of ‘Origins’ and ‘America’) and then letting them discover it for themselves.
Steve: You’ve spearheaded several successful campaigns for 2000 AD over the last year – the ‘gay Judge Dredd’ promo picked up a lot of attention, in particular. How do you decide which comics might be suitable for a push, and which stories are going to pick up the most attention?
Mike: I talk to 2000 AD’s editor Matt Smith about what we have coming up and he’s very good at highlighting things that are noteworthy. For example, we recently had BPRD’s James Harren do his first Judge Dredd story and we’ve got a couple of big artist announcements coming in the next few months which are quite exciting. I always do a baseline social media push for each edition of 2000 AD – teasing new stories or returning series, promoting striking covers – but quite often there’s something specific to push like new or returning talent.
The ‘gay Dredd’ campaign was a particular highlight. Not every fan was pleased with my tactics there, but the wall by my desk covered in national and international media clippings and the 30% hike in sales for that particular issue (with high retention and new subscriber rates) makes me feel somewhat justified. It was the same for the return of the Dark Judges as part of the Judge Dredd: Day of Chaos storyline – we ran a great teaser campaign with CBR and the sales graphs all blipped upwards and stayed there.
Alongside the digital explosion our print edition is benefiting from the higher profile – over the past six months, the 2000 AD iPad app has not only grown our number of subscribers overall but has also bolstered the number of print subscribers. We’ve got clear data showing that promotion has played a major part in that, so I’ve been very pleased with our work over the past year.
Steve: Similarly, the Trifecta story from Al Ewing, Si Spurrier and Rob Williams got a lot of critical acclaim. Can you plan for that sort of buzz ahead of a story being released? Ahead of the issue being released, do you try to arrange for more people to get hold of review copies? How do you manage a story which you think is going to be critically acclaimed, by fans and by reviewers?
Mike: We decided very early on with Trifecta that we wouldn’t spoil the surprise, but that once it was out in the open it was all hands to the pumps – Al, Si, and Rob played along brilliantly and once it was out there we really pushed hard on the reaction from readers and from those reviewers who picked up on what was happening. The issues of Trifecta have been some of our biggest digital sellers as people hear the hype then go back and pick up the relevant issues.
Building word of mouth isn’t much use when it’s for a single weekly issue because by the time people have heard about it it’s already time for the next issue, but when you have an exciting ongoing storyline then you can really help spread the word. We do weekly press previews to bloggers and journalists; getting those all-important reviews means getting copies in the right people’s hands, something that I think we’re much better at doing now than we ever have been.
Steve: Are there any techniques which always help drive attention to a comic? Valiant’s successful relaunch, for example, seemed to have a lot to do with the way they publicised themselves ahead of the first comic release.
Mike: On a very basic level you can’t go wrong with new artwork, the return of popular characters, and intriguing teasers. Nothing’s better for getting social media buzz going than a juicy piece of art or a surprise announcement that your favourite character is coming back. The biggest attention-grabbers are when you change the game a little bit or find a niche no-one knew was there.
Steve: What do you think about the current state of American comics, in terms of marketing? Marvel and DC seem to have become a lot more ‘stunt’ orientated over the last few months. Every other day sees about fifty teaser images get released.
Mike: In an insanely competitive marketplace, it’s small wonder that the big two have to shout louder and louder about their books. I like what DC is doing with its ‘DC family’ blog and the campaigns on titles such as Journey into Mystery, Young Avengers and Spider-Man that Marvel has been running have been spot on (and I was blown away by the skill of their digital announcements at SXSW recently), while Image has completely reinvented itself over the last two years into something a lot closer to the feel and ethos of 2000 AD than I think any of us realise!
I often get asked why we promote 2000 AD the way that we do and why we don’t just let “word of mouth” do our work for us. 2000 AD has been on a hell of a run for the past decade and the word of mouth was very positive, yet we weren’t significantly building our readership. Two years of strong marketing and new distribution and we’re adding readers. It’s not rocket science.
Steve: 2000AD must be an interesting magazine to work on, because it’s a weekly anthology series. How do you focus your PR for each issue? Do you focus on creators, or characters – or the magazine as a whole, single product?
Mike: All of the above! And yes, it’s a constantly fascinating, evolving comic to work on. We have a brilliant stable of artists and writers who’ve really knocked it out of the park over the last 18 months, plus a tiny editorial team who are just as enthusiastic and passionate about 2000 AD as any reader. It can be challenging at times because many non-readers have an idea of it that’s 20 years out of date; all those great strips and creators are fantastic and amazing, but the past ten years of 2000 AD have been universally praised amongst fans as a second golden age and that’s pretty bloody exciting.
Steve: We’ve seen 2000AD building up a reputation overseas (which in this case means America) over the last year or so. How do you approach publicising the magazine abroad? Again, do you find you have to tailor the material you offer overseas readers?
Mike: It’s been a particular aim of mine to make us as much of a part of the comics mainstream in America as any other publisher and I believe we’re starting to get some traction there. I’d like to offer more previews of material to news sites, though it can be a struggle to make people understand that carrying 2000 AD news can bring in readers. We have a great relationship with sites like CBR and Comics Alliance, and some real advocates of our comics in people like Doug Wolk, Karl Keily, and Tucker Stone. We bring out one or two collections specifically for North America every month so it’s a case of publicising them as normal while bearing in mind that American and Canadian audiences may not be as au fait with the language and culture of British comics.
Steve: Do you think digital has evened the playing field a little, now everybody has access to comics from home?
Mike: Completely. For reasons unfortunately beyond our control many comic book readers in North America can’t get hold of 2000 AD as easily as we would like, so being able to beam each ‘Prog’ directly into their hands is a massive bonus. We have a reputation as a British comics powerhouse, so we just have to make sure people are intrigued enough to give 2000 AD a go.
Steve: What would you say is the key to working PR in the comics industry, in the current climate?
Mike: Good material to work with, constant attention to social media and a thick skin (I admit mine could be somewhat thicker).
Steve: What would you like to see more of from comic companies in 2013, in terms of PR, co-ordination, and marketing?
Mike: A bit more innovation, but then that’s easy for me to say and very hard to suggest ways in which you could do it. While marketing is important, it should never drive creative choices but I would like to see marketing that pointedly pushes out into other demographics and stresses aspects of comics beyond the obvious – the industry has a lot of work to do to convince people it’s not all spandex and T&A for teenage and not-so-teenage boys. But it must always be about working with the creative teams, who are the ones delivering the material in the first place.
Dirty Frank is one of my favourite characters from 2000ad at the moment. He's a long term undercover Judge who talks about himself in the third person and is named after a Pearl Jam song. He's part of the Lowlife strip written by Rob Williams. I showed Rob the inks for this and I'm thoroughly chuffed to say he like it... so, I showed it to Tharg, who thought Frank's left arm looked a little awkward... I can't see it myself, but I'll bear it in mind next time I'm asking him for work!
He needs to hire me soon though, or it'll be me picking through the bins for food scraps! (only joking)
Amongst other bits and pieces and preparation for this weekend's Kapow, I've been doing a commission for John Burdis, I'd done something for The Cellar of Dredd before, a quick single illustration of Hondo-Cit's Inspector Inaba. I'd done that under my own steam following the fab time I had at the Hi-Ex Comicon, but this time, John had something in mind.
The following is all about the "process" for those of you who like to see the work in progress stuff.
I did an initial sketch based upon John's original brief:
"Dredd stood in the middle of a street with dead superheroes strewn all around him and Joe saying something along the lines of "Costumed vigilantes, leave the real crime fighting to me!" The characters who would be dead would include Superman (head missing definitely), Batman, Wonderwoman, Captain America and all those other US bods."
One thought kept floating around my brain, a pile of dead super-heroes and something in Brian Bolland's classic cover to Prog 2000 kept nagging at me as well.
John liked the inital sketch but had a couple of requests for additions if I could manage them:
First up was a simple addition to the roster of the dispatched: "Green Arrow's arm with a broken bow"
Next was just a weapons' upgrade to the "Colt Widowmaker " instead of the Anti-Hero gun I'd been musing over as the reason why Dredd was now able to dispatch these super-heroes.
Finally, a nice way to really make the commission a personal one: " a large pristine BURDIS BLOCK and a couple of derelict smaller blocks with the names MARVEL and DC".
In Dredd's world, towering apartment Blocks are often named after famous people, sometimes for satirical reasons, sometimes equally as a tribute to that person. I felt that DC and MARVEL blocks could nicely be rolled into the one (albeit well beaten-up) DEE CEE MARVILLE block.
I wanted the blocks to say something about John and the two comic companies respectively... aside from the beaten-up aspect of DEE CEE
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Over on the A Little Bit Bunny Blog, I'm late in the month of the Toad...
Initially I was going to do a Sagbelly, from an Episode of the classic Judge Dredd epic "The Judge Child". I got pretty close to a finished piece in photoshop... I was trying out an all digital approach...
...but then I remembered, I'd already done a Judge Dredd piece over there very recently!
Then I experimented with the idea of those psychedelic Toads... but toads are such weird looking creatures anyway, doing any sort of twist was causing me a headache...
I've been working on a commission for another member of the 2000ad forum. Ian Leonard asked if he could have a Johnny Alpha and Judge Dredd team-up, where those two bad boys were surrounded by mutants and zombies etc, but also including characters from the Wizard of Oz!
These are the cleaned up inks ready to colour.
The raw scan shows through where I've printed out a 'blue-line' version of my digital 'pencils'.
Here's a few stages of development, including the proposed dialogue on the first.
I feel like Johnny and Dredd should be saying something smart arse too, but inspiration is lacking on that front.
It’s 2000AD 35th birthday—which seems kind of young, as its brand is so ubiquitous in UK comics—and they will be releasing a bunch of GNs this year including some Dredd-ful stuff by Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, John Wagner and Pat Mills with art by Brian Bolland, Chris Weston, Steve Dillon and Dave Gibbons. For those who like things a little less Tharg, there’s a new edition of LEVIATHAN, a fine riff on the titanic story by Ian Edginton and D’Isreali.
This month, the Celtic barbarian Sláine returns with the first volume in one of the most breathtaking fantasy series ever. Sláine: Book of Invasions 1 (ISBN: 9781907992681 US $19.99/Canada $22.99) sees Pat Mills’ axe-wielding hero begin an epic quest, with 122 pages of visceral work from award-winning artist Clint Langley. Once the first High King of Ireland, Sláine must protect his tribe against a new tide of evil. In the astonishing and fresh follow-up to the critically-acclaimed Sláine: The Horned God, Langley’s full color hyper-real art will blow you away!
In April, on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, a very different voyage sets sail. Leviathan (ISBN: 9781907992698 US $16.99/Canada $19.99) is a gargantuan steampunk murder mystery from the partnerhsip behind Scarlet Traces – Ian Edington (Victorian Undead) and D’Israeli (SVK). It is 1928 and the world’s largest ocean-liner disappears on its maiden voyage to New York. It drifts for 20 years on a desolate limbo ocean, but when murders begin aboard ship, Detective Sergeant Lament must delve into the ship’s depths to discover the root of its mysteries. This is a stunning story by two massive talents and not to be missed.
One of the all-time classics in the 2000 AD pantheon, the first US collection of Rogue Trooper lands in May. Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu Earth 01 (ISBN: 9781907992704 US $19.99/Canada $22.99) features 400 pages of future war action! Created by Gerry Finley-Day and Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), Rogue Trooper roams Nu-Earth, the last of the Genetic Infantrymen. On planet ravaged by war, its atmosphere poisoned by the endless war between the Norts and the Southers, Rogue searches for the general who betrayed his blue-skinned brethren at the Quartz Zone Massacre.
Another classic from Judge Dredd arrives in June. Judge Dredd: Complete Case Files 05 (ISBN: 978-1781080283 US $19.99/Canada $22.99) features three of the all-time greatest Dredd stories ever – Judge Death, Block War and The Apocalypse War! The fifth volume in this hit series, collecting together Dredd’s most exciting cases, features art by such comic legends as Brian Bolland (Batman: The Killing Joke), Carlos Ezquerra and Mike McMahon and written by John Wagner (A History of Violence) and Alan Grant (Lobo)!
Judges have the toughest job on the mean streets of Mega-City One, but they’re only human. So when
Judge Inspector Inaba, one of the Judges from another City in Judge Dredd's world, in this case, Hondo-City. This is a 'sketch' that I had promised for John who runs the Cellar of Dredd Blog.
I've been having real problems with my drawing, for the last week and a half, so yesterday I took a break and sketched this up, I've spent a little while fiddling with it in photoshop and I've finally managed to produce something I'm happy with. I think it could stand being cropped differently, but it was drawn at A4 so I thought I would leave it at those proportions.
I dunno if I've mentioned it, but I'm going to be doing a Judge Dredd strip for a future issue of Zarjaz, and very excited I am too! It's a great little story involving Mopads, the mobile homes of the future... written by Lee Robson, it's got old school style and as a warm up I've just done this quick Dredd head.
I've still not settled on a look that I'm happy with, but this has that gritty brooding quality I've been after for a while, if not exactly the style of previous attempts.
One of my cohorts on Fractal Friction, (the not so grimm) Matte Soffe has done me the honour of inking up some of my recent sketches, please read his full blog posting here.
One of the pieces was my recent Dredd sketch, which he also did some beautiful colouring on... and as if that weren't enough he's been universally lovely about promoting it all over the web too... Thanks Matt, you're a gent, a talented one too.
I've known about Google sketchup for a while and I've done nothing about learning how to use it, despite having heard pretty good things... that changed last week when I saw an amazing job that Richard Smith did using it to model a spaceship called the Terrapin (see Richard's website for more of his illustration work). The Terrapin is for a strip he is working on for a forthcoming issue of FutureQuake and looks awesome and I was inspired to learn more!
After asking Richard whether he thought it was worth learning how to use Sketchup, (a resounding yes), I decided I would spend a bit of time trying to get to grips with it. There are some limitations but I managed to build Judge Dredd's Lawmaster (his bike) and I'm not unhappy with the results... I will build a few other things and hopefully it will help greatly with that Dredd strip I'm doing for Zarjaz with Lee Robson.
I have to say, I'm thoroughly impressed with sketchup and for a FREE and EASY 3D package I can see no downside, especially when you can export animations that you can use to show others around the models you have built. So, can I recommend it? On Monday I had no idea how to create things in 3D that I could then use to plan scenes and things... and now I have a new and powerful tool in my skill set! So, I can strongly recommend it, well worth the time spent I think!
This one was done for Chris Askham, who simply asked for a female 2000AD character... Who to choose? Halo Jones, DeMarco, Venus Bluegenes, Niamh? A plethora of sexy maidens were before me to choose from... so who did I choose? Yep, the hard nut resident of the lowlife and wally squad Judge, Aimee Nixon, who you'd want to be careful to ever describe as sexy, but is still one of my favourite female characters of recent years.
In return, Chris did this top notch piece of Judge Anderson for me.
To go along with the Lawmaster I made a while ago in Google Sketch-Up, I've built a section of Mega-City One. I've invested some time making vehicles and zooms and bits and pieces to help me frame my panels for a Judge Dredd strip by Lee Robson that I've blogged a little about before.
Click image for a huge, zoom-able version
This is still a work in progress and I'll probably use different views than the one shown here, but that's the beauty of a simple 3D package, I make this once, then I can move things around for the best framing of each panel without having to reconstruct, redraw and redo all those little details again and again. Admittedly, I will to some extent, because I will only be using the exported images as under-lays for each of the panels.
I may have gone a little bit overboard with this whole SketchUp preparation... hopefully it should make the resultant strip look a whole lot cooler though!
This is a (admittedly not very good) fly-through of the main locations within the mopad I'll be needing in the strip.
I've also made a lawgiver, based on the one I did in my most recent Dredd sketch, which my good pal Matt Soffe did a bang-up colouring job on here by the way.
I think, this lawgiver, with the lawmaster and the bonkers sized scene of Mega-City 1 from last week, rounds out the collection of reference models for Judge Dredd's world that I should need on this strip...