Book Club / Getting More Future

Judge Dredd: The Apocalypse War
By John Wagner and Alan Grant
Art by Carlos Ezquerra and Mike McMahon

 

 

 

 

The London Graphic Novel Network takes a trip to Mega City One and gets into nuclear war with Judge Dredd: The Apocalypse War! Somehow managing to drag in Love and Rockets and Neil Gaiman as well as psychically predicting articles in the Guardian as well as advising the best etiquette for talking about comics at dinner parties Questions include: Is most of 2000AD mediocre to awful? Which famous TV character does Judge Dredd most resemble? And how long does something have to run for before it gets good?

 

 

Judge Dredd is a comic about nothing.  

And that’s a good thing. 
 
So yeah – we can talk about The Apocalypse War in particular in a bit: but I wanna just start with some just some general Judge Dredd appreciation. Because – yeah – full disclosure: I’m a 2000AD kid from way back. I mean: the first prog I brought proper was 994 (during the tail end of The Pit saga and back when they had that stoopid logo running across the top: come on guys – don’t mess with the best): but yeah – I used to get those Titan books they used to do – which was like Judge Dredd 11 or whatever. Kinda hodge-podge collections before they had the smart idea of doing The Complete Case Files things. 
 
I mean: not that 2000AD is just Judge Dredd. I could very easily start listing all of the cool characters, series, writers and artists who’ve done 2000AD stuff over the years. But come on: when you’ve been publishing an anthology comic once a week since 1977 trying to wrap it all up in a few sentences is a bit much. Just thinking about what I could write and my head is already buzzing with a hundred different names. I’m not even exaggerating at all to say that it’d probably be easier to name a British author or artist that HASN’T worked for 2000AD at some point. I mean: it’s basically the English equivalent of Marvel and DC only – it’s all in one comic and it’s got loads more spaceships. 
 
So let’s narrow it down and just talk about Dredd: who after all – is the public face of 2000AD and basically is one of the best popular comic characters ever created. I mean: yeah sure there are characters from books out there that are more well defined and have more nuance and blah blah blah: but in terms of characters that everyone knows: including your mum who’s never read a comic in her life – Judge Dredd is (sorry to be so reductive): teh best. 
 
I started reading Block Mania last night as a kinda Apocalypse War aperitif and at the back of my mind I was trying to put my finger on – just why I love Dredd and his world so much: and yeah – I mean: I know we can probably get into somekinda deep blah blah about fascism and satire and police and America and Judge Dredd: America and etc: but the thought that popped into my head last night was actually: what makes Dredd so cool and so entertaining and so readable is the fact that – for the large majority of the time: it’s not really about anything. It’s just this guy with a helmet, an attitude problem and a large daystick going around busting heads: dealing with future craziness. And nine times out of ten: it’s all the pleasures that brings. I mean: yeah yeah if you wanna go there: Block Mania is like this about housing and aggression and future living and whatever: but mostly it’s about all the crazy cool stuff that happens. Like: that new High Rise film is all high-minded about the same sort of concerns: but while it just has Tom Hiddlestone doing his whole aloof thing: Block Mania has Enid Blyton Block going up against Henry Kissinger (among others): and yeah maybe you can say that’s like Children’s Book going up against America Foreign policy or whatever: actually no: it’s more just – cool images and exciting ideas that add up to nothing more than themselves. 
 
It’s like Seinfeld but with more spaceships innit?
 
 

 

I’d dispute Seinfield was really ‘about nothing’ (despite the makers’ protestations) let alone Dredd which has been addressing and satirising contemporary trends for forty years,  That’s something almost unique within the medium and pretty unusual even in fiction generally.  The closest comparison I can think of is Ed McBain’s 87th precinct novels. He wrote a book a year about his squad of detectives in a lightly fictionalised New York for over half a century which taken together give an incredible tapestry of how urban landscapes have changed over that period.  (They’re also very readable and have inspired every decent cop show you’ve ever seen so well worth checkingout. You ought to be able to find one in pretty much any charity shop these days)

As for the Apocalypse War in Particular, it’s an incredible story as the tension ratchets up from someone accidentally dropping an ice cream cone into armageddon.  It was from the period of Threads, When the winds blows and the BBC day of the triffids and is infused with the same fears of nuclear destruction.  These days Dredd is mostly read by adults but what’s shocking is that back in those days it was aimed at twelve year old boys!  There are unflinching scenes when the judges mercy kill citizens suffering radiation poisoning which probably remains the bleakest thing I’ve ever read in fiction.  What’s also great about it is that even though the writers were card carrying CND members, they didn’t patronise the readers or tell them whether Dredd’s actions made him a hero or a villain in a way that makes you realise how stupidly contrived most superhero comics are.

A couple of good links

Firstly, here’s a link to some of the recenly colourised art.  The original strip was mostly in black and white but it’s been coloured so sensitively that it probably improves the already excellent art

http://www.forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/2014/upcoming-the-apocalypse-war-gets-new-edition-from-idw/

And here’s a clearly heartfelt essay by Garth Ennis explaining why he thinks the Apocalypse War is so great

http://www.bleedingcool.com/2009/08/24/garth-ennis-when-2000ad-was-the-future/

 
 

 

I’ve tended to think that 2000AD is where you go if you want to write comics but don’t know how to write them, it’ll print your rubbish comics and then you can go off to Image or Marvel and write stuff that hopefully isn’t bone-knawingly terrible. My knowledge of 2000AD is generally limited to trades, so is what they thought was *their best work* and most of it is mediocre to awful. Awful? Mazeworld, I’m looking at you. Mediocre? Neil Gaiman’s Futureshocks. The few exceptions are ‘Zenith’ which probably reads better if you haven’t read The Invisibles, which is about 60% the storylines of Zenith with space to breathe, Alan Moore’s stuff, because he did his years of writing shitty comics before he came to 2000AD and Garth Ennis’s collected Judge Dredd stuff.

Reading those in the library a few years ago, Necropolis, the Zombie thing that came after Necropolis and the obligatory Garth-Ennis-takes-a-few-potshots-at-the-Irish-as-only-he-can story I found that was more enough Dredd for another couple of years. I’m fairly sure that Ennis has gone on record somewhere as saying that he found Dredd really difficult to write because of strict editorial control over what Dredd could and couldn’t do. What could he do? Beat people up for existing. What couldn’t he do? Anything else. So it’s unsurprising that something like Necropolis sidelines Dredd for almost the entire story, so that the characters that didn’t have to be written like emotionally neutered fascists could run around.

 

So, I’ve not read Apocalypse War, I assume it’s in one of the big phonebooks and someone can tell me which one I need to read for what I assume will be another of the famous 2000AD six page stories from 2 issues? I’ve read ‘Day of Chaos’ and enjoyed it, though mainly as a compare and contrast, now that Rebellion have had Hollywood money sniffing around them they seem to have ordered a whitewashing and softening of Dredd’s stance. Whereas before every citizen of Megacity One was a perp-in-waiting now we get Dredd talking about how there are citizens and criminals. And if they have taken the challenge and run with it, it might be genuinely interesting to see how Dredd works in a city when he doesn’t have infinite power-ups and has to make compromises to get along. Book Three of Day of Chaos was hardly inspiring though, just story after story where the Justice Department has just enough resources to deal with the threat du jour.

 

 


Ha!
 
Loz – and here was me thinking I was the one that did the trolling here? 🙂 
 
I mean: reading a few trades and then using that to base your whole opinion on 2000AD is kinda like watching a few episodes of This Morning and The Jeremy Kyle Show and then claiming that all TV is awful. I mean: Mazeworld? Yes Arthur Ranson is gifted in ways far beyond mere mortals with his cross-hatching and endlessly detailed landscapes: but come on – when was the last time Alan Grant ever wrote anything good? (Answer = never). I mean: have you ever tried Button Man? Because that’s Ranson using his powers for brutal 70s film good instead of wanky un-focused sub-sword and sorcery evil. 
 
Neil Gaiman wrote some Futureshocks? Oh dear. I didn’t know that and have no wish to go seek them out… 
 
And also yeah – I’ll admit it – having read probably more Dredd than is healthy for one person: a lot of that is pretty mediocre too (and I would very much include every time Garth Ennis did a Dredd: because yeah – yuk – he just wasn’t very good at it. Most probably because it would have seemed a little incongruous if Dredd had a flashback to when he was fighting in ‘Nam or whatever….But then also: that was back when he was at the start of his career no? I mean hell – if I ran 2000AD I’d see if I could get him back to do a Dredd NOW because I’m pretty sure it would be totally awesomeness: Like his Nick Fury or Punisher MAX run: only hundred years in the future = YES!)
 
But yeah: if you wanna read The Apocalypse War then my best recommendation is to get a copy of the Complete Case Films 05 (aka The Purple One with Dredd on his bike) because it offers the best way to experience it: basically lots of general day-to-day Judge Dredd stuff (which is all mostly awesome by-the-way) that then very slowly mutates into full blown nuclear war (WHOOP!).  
 
Book 3 of Day of Chaos? Oh wait – is that the “Aftermath” one? Well yeah – that was rubbish. But come on: it’s that thing isn’t it? Follow the writer not the character – John Wagner doing Judge Dredd is pretty much always fantastic. Everyone else = not so much (sorry everyone else). 
 
 
 

 

I’m still reeling from reading ‘mediocre and awful’ in connection with 2000AD – surely one of the most seminal comics of all time?!

Now I’ll get back up off the floor….

Check out the E4 documentary ‘Future Shock: The story of 2000AD’ still available on catch up if you need further convincing.

Great insight and behind the scenes look with contributions from Pat Mills – editor and other contributors.

Confession time – I started reading 2000AD with issue 2 in ’77 and read pretty much everything Dredd since then and ‘The Apocalypse War’ was one of the great  classic long storylines (long with The Cursed Earth, The Judge Child, Block Mania, Chopper etc)

Biting satire set against the Miners Strike and the Reagen era Cold War of the time that ran for some 6 months – unheard of at the time.

The story development is second to none – a dropped ice cream starts the Block War (Block Mania storyline precedes TAW) that escalates into Armageddon, written by the great Alan Grant and John Wagner, it’s clever witty, violent, it was written in 1982 when ‘Threads’ was on TV  along with ‘When the Wind Blows’ and ‘Protect and Survive’ videos were shown – so very much reflected the anxiety and paranoia of the time.

If you want a treat I suggest the  Apocalypse War re-issue/ reprint in newly coloured hardback version (the original was mostly B/W)  – the art by the great Ezquerra has never looked better!

http://www.forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/2014/upcoming-the-apocalypse-war-gets-new-edition-from-idw/

This book is the seminal JD work in my view and has no equal in its long history!

 
 

 

I’d agree with most of that.  Volume five of the complete case files is definitely the best classic period of Dredd.  But both Wagner’s writing and Dredd himself, (who definitely does have a personality these days) have changed over the decades and it’s a very different strip these days.  You can trace the changeover mostly down to the period when they started doing stories about the judges brutally suppressing democratic protestors…

Personally I think both periods are great.  I like the early stuff because they’re basically kids’ stories but done so well that adults can get something out of them too which is eve now a surprising rarity in the world of comics. but if you liked the more complex storytelling of Day of Chaos check out the collections like the ‘Tour of Duty’ volumes, ‘Mandroid’ or ‘Origins’

 
 
 

 

Realise that I might be wading into waters I know nothing about but what the hey right? 
 
So. There’s this guy called Gary Groth right? And like it says on his wikipedia page: He is editor-in-chief of The Comics Journal and a co-founder of Fantagraphics Books. Which hats off – is a genius move. Because in comics circles The Comics Journal is the smart one looking all fancy and talking serious and getting all the respect – it’s the place you need to go if you want to talk about how “comic books are more than just superheroes you know?” Like autobiographic comics about mental illness and various types of abuse: the high-brow smart stuff that sounds good if you talk about it at dinner parties – “Oh yes – I just read a marvelous graphic novel about the plight of milkmaids during the fall of Communist Russia or whatever (although – ha! – full disclosure: several years ago I emailed The Comics Journal and was like: oh hi guys! I run something called the Islington Comic Forum! Can I write something for you please? = LOL at my younger self).
 
But yeah Fantagraphics Books is a comic book publisher (*cough* conflict of interest *cough*) and in the early 1980s they started publishing a book called Love And Rockets which well yeah everything in subjective and everything: but I think is one of the most over-rated comics of all frigging time. 
 
I mean: fine yeah – whatever: I get it. Different people like different things and etc. Opinions are not objective and stuff. But I have never ever ever been able to get into Love and Rockets. For me they are the Sonic Youth of comics (the thing that people say is amazing and that I should love: but has less to nothing in terms of it’s effect on me). 
 
Like: I’m just want to understand you know? I just want to get it. What is it that everyone else loves about Love and Rockets? 
 
And well – the thing that most people say when I ask them to explain it to me (swear to god) is that: oh yeah – it’s really good because it’s telling the same story with the same characters and you watch them grow up in real time. 
 
To which I can only say: oh yeah – well in that case what about Judge Dredd? 
 
Because well yeah: Dredd (which started in the late 1970s) not only has a cast of characters that would put a soap opera to shame (this list is far far from complete): but omg – it’s a whole future world which by now is pretty intricate in terms of it’s politics, culture, inventions, society and etc.Like have you ever had that thing where DC and Marvel fans brag about how they’re into this shared universe of continuity or whatever? I mean: that’s basically bullshit seeing how they’re always rebooting and restarting and rebirthing themselves – the whole thing is not one big continuation or whatever: it’s a fudge (and fudges upon fudges): like – why is Batman still so young? Shouldn’t he be dead like now or whatever? And gosh – imagine that – a world where Batman had died or had his time and get Gotham still continued? Where every year Batman was around – the city got older and changed and got stranger. Where the bad guys retaliated for a defeat they suffered 20 years ago and you could get the comics and see that defeat for yourself? 
 
Well yeah – that’s Judge Dredd. A future world that keeps on getting more future: that doesn’t get near as much love as it should do. Because well yeah as far as I can tell (if my math is correct): if you love Love and Rockets – then you should love Judge Dredd even more
 

 

Hi Joel, all,

Two questions instantly spring to mind:
 
1. Where can I get hold of that book about the Plight-stricken Milkmaids in Communist Russia? It sounds awesome.

2. Should the lovers of Love & Rockets also love radio 4’s “The Archers” then, as well as Dredd? That’s chock-full of continuity and change, so I hear. 
 
At which point, I’ll stop being a smart-arse and respond to what you said.
 
I liked half of Love & Rockets – the Gilbert/Palomar stuff. Never really got into the Hopie & Maggie stories, they seemed kind of superficial and trendy. I liked Palomar just because of it’s weird mixture of the exotic and the everyday, I think. The art wasn’t particularly showy, but did a great job carrying the stories. “Human Diastrophism” was probably the high point for me, after that I lost interest a bit. I’ve been a right old advocate of non-superhero comics, back when that was much more unusual, and did get a bit superior about it when I was little. These days, I don’t do dinner parties, and the non-superhero stuff that I mostly read – I’m not drawn to it out of a need to feel superior, or to look good talking about it.  And some of it turns out to be really good, and some very disappointing / middling. Publishing’s rife with people talking up mediocre stuff as if it were the Next Big Thing – I don’t think Gary Groth’s doing anything wildly original in having close ties between reviews and flogging stuff.
 
I also really like Dredd – or rather, all the surrounding characters and world-building, I couldn’t say I care much about Dredd, and the few attempts at giving him character /depth haven’t really come off. I like Uncle Ump, the Jigsaw Man, Chopper and the Phantom, and Chopper’s Dad heading eggs into a bucket, Rinus Limpopop Quintz, Boing! and Kenny Who – and the heavy-handed polemics when Pat Mills took the helm. The way it didn’t really struggle to make sense the way the US comics did, and the joy of having so many really talented people work on it. I don’t think the continuity was ever a big thing for me.

stand firm

With the best “highbrow” stuff I’ve read – comics, books and films – I’ll get the same direct buzz that I’d get from a good Dredd story – “that is so cool, look how they did that” sort of thing. I’d worry more about the distinction between good and bad fiction than high/low-brow, to be honest. Publishing is a well-oiled money-making machine that doesn’t seem to deliver in quality very consistently, and sometimes the creators manage to get lucky and get some good stuff all the way through the pipe without too much interference or dilution. 2000AD as a whole certainly did that.
 
I’d worry too about nostalgia in comics (and books and film). A lot of effort’s spent trying to recapture the best of some previous era. To pick the big, stonkingly obvious target, Zack Snyder recently blew some big money trying to recreate the feeling he had when he first read Frank Miller’s Dark Knight – and by all accounts it was a mess. Watchmen blew my mind when it came out, but you’d have to really talk me into reading anything that claimed it as a major influence these days. And much as I love classic Dredd, I wouldn’t seek out any new material trying to recapture the essence of early Dredd, because my experience of reading it is tied up with being a teenager, and nothing’s going to make me feel like I’m 16 again (and if I think about it for more than a minute, I don’t want to). I’d rather look for something new and never-been-done-before, and make do with maybe 1 in 3 actually being any good. 
 
That nostalgia thing’s at best a shackle, and at worst, a key ingredient in the ugly stew of misogyny and hate-speech that’s currently holding back all comics, and geekdom in general, whether low or high brow. Going way off topic now, but the dinner party pseuds you described are, by this reckoning, just another variant on the sad puppies and gamergaters, trying to ringfence a much bigger genre/medium/whatever as exclusively their own. Their tactics are rather less damaging, for certain – but the intent’s the same. Stuff the lot of them, this fiction thing’s bigger than any of us, and 2000AD certainly revelled in not staying in any one box for too long.
 

 

 

KEEP CALM… THRILL FACTOR OVERLOAD. TOTAL ANNHILATION DEVICE.


That’s Judge Dredd. It totally annihilates all senses and wears you down like a bludgeoning hammer, endlessly smashing your face. I mean this in a good way, because Dredd is good! (Maybe it has something to do with me being American and growing up in the 1980s, I dunno—Oh, before I forget, I want to say hello and thanks for inviting my into the “club.” First timer, happy to join in the discussion!) In the States, it’s probably safe to say that most folks are familiar with Judge Dredd primarily through the films. But, it’s funny, the movies adapted from Dredd books (like Richard Stanley’s Hardware and Danny Cannon’s Judge Dredd) don’t even begin to capture the insanity of the 2000AD tales. Pete Travis’ Dreddgets a little closer, but doesn’t quite find it either. No one in Hollywood would have the balls to properly adapt Judge Dredd to the silver screen.

 

Judge Dredd has always been an exercise in HOW TO BE THE MOST OVER THE TOP. I guess a lot of 2000AD was like this, but Wagner’s Dredd always did it with panache and made it work. It’s like a compilation of old-school action movies (already on steroids but on even more steroids). How do you write a feasible doomsday scenario for a world that has already gone through doomsday ten times over? You have a million nukes and billions of casualties like it ain’t no thing. “Apocalypse War” gives us the blatant topical sociopolitical parallels with its East versus West scenario and transparent commentary on the horrors of living in a nuclear age via massive collateral damage and loss of innocent life. But beyond these obvious metaphors, “Apocalypse War” (and a lot of other 2000AD Dredd) reads like grotesquely mutated (but fitting) continuation of the works of Robert Heinlein. There are never any heroes in Dredd’s world, only brutal pragmatists. This is a fascist power fantasy, whose conscienceless protagonist is the ultimate eye-for-an-eye soldier. Judge Dredd’s “charm” has always been this and always will be. And it’s exactly why Judge Dredd is so endlessly fascinating and why it’s titular character is so enduring.


 they sure are pretty

“Apocalypse War” also tickles me with its focus on the manipulation and abuse of the human mind. How much can you take before you suffer complete clinical dementia? Block Mania. Apocalypse Fever. Mass Hysteria. Temporary Madness. Disorienting Strobe Beams. Hypnotic Propaganda. Psycho Surgeons. Mind-Teks. Psi Division Telepaths. Mind Scans. Psychological torture is a significant part of the entire Dredd mythos, but Wagner makes damn sure to include all of it.

The Dredd stuff I’ve read from the 1980s is mostly Wagner’s (from lovely large format Titan Books releases), so I can’t compare to many other Dredd stories, including Ennis’ run. Having just read the version of “Apocalypse War” featuring John Burns’ coloring of Carlos Ezquerra’s art, I can condidently comment that Burns’ colors are garish, but appropriately garish. Not sure if y’all have read the 2014 IDW mini-series JUDGE DREDD: MEGA-CITY TWO by Douglas Wolk, Ulises Farinas, & Ryan Hill, but you should. It is damn near perfectand definitely in the spirit of Wagner’s old stuff. This is the comic that shows how Dredd “works in a city without infinite power-ups and has to make compromises to get along.” Wolk ends each issue with a prose piece entitled “Dredd’s Comportment,” offering encyclopedic blurbs about the Judges and the Mega-Cities, written chronologically and continuity-obsessively (in the best way possible). Farinas’ prodigious Geoff Darrow-esque art is top notch as well, with a thousand-and-one Easter Eggs on each page. Check it out, if you haven’t already.

And last but not least, Joel mentioned ongoing continuity and character growth, specifically in Love and Rockets, which I’ve honestly never been able to get into either.  I’ll try harder, I’m sorry! But if you want to watch characters grow in real time over a long period of time, then watch Adventure Time or watch/read Dragon Ball Z. (Note to the members of this discussion group, I will likely reference Dragon Ball Z in every post, so GET USED TO IT.) Continuity, growth, and legacy have always been important to me as a comic book reader. I could talk about the pitfalls and benefits of heavy continuity for days, but I’ll save that for another discussion (or my own blog). In Dredd, continuity and canon ARE undeniably very important, especially with its unbelievably complex world-building. But in Dredd, the story, unlike so many other comics, never gets sacrificed for the sake of continuity.

 

 

 
With both Joel and Collin mentioning Love & Rockets the other day, here’s an article from the Guardian touting it as the high point of comics ever. Which I just don’t get. You guys didn’t like it much, I liked some of it, as I said – and it was influential, back in the early ’80’s, for sure – but there’s plenty other stuff “like it” in comics these days. Why run an article about it now, 30-odd years on?
 
Weird coincidence, psychic ability to read Guardian journos’ minds, or time travel paradox?!
 

 

Conversely I don’t really understand why the material of Neil Gaiman is widely regarded as one of the finest pieces of fiction of the last 35 years. Because it isn’t.


 

I’m not a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s work on the whole, FWIW. At his best, he’s very enjoyable, and he brings unusual ideas in sometimes. There are a few Sandman stories that I quite liked, and some of his early stories with Dave McKean. He’s certainly carved out a nice niche for himself, though, and good luck to him. (And everyone says what a nice guy he is, which I’ve no reason to doubt, and that counts for something amidst all the toxic personalities in the comics business.)

His name was kind of thrown into that article as an attempt to legitimise it or hook people in, wasn’t it? I had to check twice to see if he’d written it or not, but nope, it was just there as an attention grabber. “It’s ok, folks, it’s safe to like this one. You can mention it at a dinner party without getting savaged.” I’m glad that the Guardian’s writing about comics, and getting them out to people who wouldn’t otherwise be reading them, and I’m glad that the chattering classes aren’t so afraid of comics these days. But trying to sell something because of fear is never a good plan.

Maybe the good stuff that gets into The Guardian and related sites is there by accident – something the writer/artist wanted to do anyway that happens to appeal ? If something’s been written (out of fear) to try to appease “the literary establishment”, chances are it’ll not be much good. 
 
Also … I don’t think it’s possible to talk honestly or genuinely about anything as “one of the finest pieces of fiction of the last X years”, it’s pretty much always hype. There’s so much stuff out there these days, in comics, books and film – and a lot of it is ok, or even quite good.
 
Even sticking to the world of Dredd, I wouldn’t want to say who the finest writer or artist is. Mike McMahon, Brian Bolland and Ron Smith were all great in different ways, as were less frequent ones like Colin Wilson and Ian Gibson. Trying to compare McMahon versus Bolland, say, doesn’t go anywhere, they’re so different, and both iconic. I’m glad they were both there, offering such different portrayals of the world.
 
Love & peace, everyone 🙂
 
 

 

 

We all could use a little more love and peace in our lives. Less divisiveness, that’s for sure. To all, I wasn’t trying to diss Love & Rockets. I simply haven’t read enough consistently to get hooked. Dig the style of Los Bros Hernandez immensely, though, and would definitely take another crack at it with a proper guide. (I likely will at some point.)
 
In regard to Neil Gaiman, he is either beloved or hated, no matter the circles in which you travel. I know a ton of people that LOATHE his stuff. Personally, I really enjoy Gaiman’s work, especially Sandman. I’ve also noticed that Gaiman is a gateway into sci-fi/comics for non-comicbook-readers and n00bs. (Gaiman was one of my first “true loves” outside of superheroes). Maybe it is his cornball 80s twee-goth-ness that turns people off? I dunno, I’ve always been charmed. And, having interacted with Gaiman in person on a couple occasions, I can indeed say that he is maybe the nicest/friendliest comic book creator I’ve met. In comicbookworld, that DOES count for a lot.
 
 

 

+1 to all that, Collin 🙂


 

I don’t really feel that strongly one way or the other about Gaiman, I just get irritated when people give quotes that are so blatantly made to be put on the dust jacket blurb of the next edition

 

 

Ooof. Yahh. Agreed on that 100%, Tam. 
 
< Conversely I don’t really understand why the material of Neil Gaiman is widely regarded as one of the finest pieces of
< fiction of the last 35 years. 



Because it isn’t.Maybe it was the finest pieces of fiction 20 years ago when people who are now writing articles were first getting into comics? And I guess if you started and stopped reading there (or didn’t really start but sort of heard about it), it remains the finest piece of fiction?Though again you can be too negative. It enjoyed it a lot and it was my introduction to comics.It reminds me of when I was playing with my friend’s seven-year old. She asked me to pick which of the fairies should be crowned the next fairy queen. There I was trying to subvert tropes and not choose cliques, and picked the nearby farm girl doll, dressed for mucking out horses. The seven-year old was not amused. I guess you have to experience and enjoy the original version of tropes before you can move on to twisting and playing with them.At this stage I would recommend reading/watching Shakespeare, just so you can enjoy the Giant in the Playground spoofs with Order of the Stick (though you have to read all of Order of the Stick too). A spoof on Romeo and Juliet is so much more fun that watching some emo kids (though to be fair the original is pretty good too, who knew? Read/watch Shakespeare too 🙂  ).
 

 

So um yeah – there was a small part of me that was feeling kinda bad saying that the first thing Love & Rocket fans are always going on about it’s been running for so long and you grow with the characters and etc. But oh wait. What’s this? A Guardian article about Love & Rockets and how it’s so great? Let’s have a look shall we?

 
*click*
 
Unlike mainstream comics, where universes are endlessly rebooted and reset to keep the superheroes eternally youthful, the Hernandez brothers have allowed their characters to age along with the readership, which forms part of its enduring appeal.”
 
mmmmmmmm. oh yeah. that’s the stuff. the sweet sweet taste of VINDICATION. 😀
 
In fact – yeah man – that whole Guardian article is exactly the sort of thing I feel like I’m always going on about. Like the way Dave described it is: “It’s ok, folks, it’s safe to like this one. You can mention it at a dinner party without getting savaged.” And well yeah: on my little mental checklist of things I would like to accomplish while I’m still alive is completely gnawing away at that whole perspective until there’s nothing left and no one talks that way ever again. Like: everyone should enjoy whatever the hell they want. I have no issue at all with that. But the idea that stuff like Love & Rockets is somehow better because it’s more refined and whatever: I mean – I think that’s dangerous bullshit that actually stops us better understanding how the world works and what it does (and oh man – please don’t even get me started on “and it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that without it the likes of DC wouldn’t have ventured into edgier fare such as Watchmen, the mature-orientated Vertigo line, or Gaiman’s Sandman.” because um yeah – I’d say it’s a little bit of a stretch – but whatever). 
 
The point is: the hierachy of comics (or whatever you want to call it) where Love & Rockets sits on the top sipping cocktails while Judge Dredd and the like dismissed and told to wait outside – well yeah: it’s kinda dumb. But hey: that’s the over-riding mental infrastructure / flying brain parasite / whatever that exists: and even if you want to ignore it – it’s still there. And it would be better if it was collapsed and delegitimized. 
 
Because well yeah and even: Dredd isn’t good because it’s one long story and ages along with it’s readership: I mean – it’s good because it’s good for all sorts of reasons we haven’t even touched upon yet (oh man: the Apocalypse War: it’s Threads with LOLS: which is amazing. Special shout out to the panel where they take Dredd’s helmet off but there’s a guy in front of his face and you can’t see: but Sov Judge behind is all: “So THAT”S what he looks like.”: it’s basically the sort of thing that only the extremely po-faced couldn’t get a kick out of – or is that just me?).

who are they 

 
What else? Oh yeah – the Neil Gaiman being nice stuff. Ha. Fuck that noise. You don’t get points for being nice. Being nice is the bare minimum of what a human should be. Also: well yeah – even tho (like a lot of you guys it seems) Neil Gaiman was there when I first started getting into comics and stuff – I mean: (like has been mentioned when we went through the Sandman): his whole – “Oh! Aren’t homeless people magical” shtick and etc is kinda ideologically dubious. I mean: if Emma doesn’t mind me quoting her recent LGNN Crown on the ground / Nos Ancêtres Les Gaulois article
 
Gaiman and others besides would have us believe that we ought not to be selective in what expression we support, to not simply defend the bits of speech that we like, but there comes an equal responsibility to recognize our positionality. Gaiman may claim to not be selective in what he believes should be defended as valid speech, but he was incredibly selective in choosing who ought to get a say when he was given the platform to express his views. He refused to name his peers who sat out and did not even deign to address the substance of the critique in blatant ignorance of the tremendous power and privilege he holds over many of those dissenting voices.  
 
Like: you should just read the whole article. But basically yeah: altho Neil Gaiman has written lots of books that I like and even tho he’s nice and whatever – I mean: that just doesn’t hold that much weight with me – the important stuff is how people choose to wield that power. And even tho I obviously all the support he gives libraries and etc (yay libraries!) I mean: a more critical society can only be a good thing right? Like – who’s comics biggest hate figure? Frank Miller? Mark Millar? Robert Crumb? Stan Lee? I mean whoever you hate the most. I bet there’s loads of people who think that they’re really nice and butter wouldn’t melt or whatever. But hey: you know what? It doesn’t matter. What matters is whether you’re using the power you have to change the world for the better or if you’re going: oh yeah – everything is nice. Let’s keep it all the same. 
 
La de da.  
 

 

(Okay…so this message/response/thing got pretty bloody messy because…well there were cool new things to read and I wanted to write about them before throwing my own guff into the mix. I think I have? Yeah structurally this is a mess. Sorry!)


Apocalypse War was coool. I liked it less than the little city stories, but it was entertaining to see the Sov parody and Dredd facing complete impossible destruction (always a great character play). I really liked how fucking brutal they were with the Judges, killing them left or right. In a tight arc like this it really adds to it, the “Soviet” cover was phenomenal and…it was a cool exception story, but the city stuff is still way more interesting.

Joel – From what I’ve seen, I can’t buy that it’s a comic about nothing (Though the Seinfeld crew as judges would be fucking glorious, or even “Curb Your Judgement Citizen 26X”). 2000AD is all about the fun sure. But Wagner talked about the characters conception as the Dirty Harry trope taken to it’s logical extreme and I think it was initially pitched as a horror story called Judge Dread. 
 
I did in fact wiki this.
 
But beyond that, come on. All that council block stuff – the depth of detail lent to how administrations build and ruin them? These are insane political pulp, awesome writers smart enough to know the wanna-censors would think them too childish and stupid to contemplate skewering politics. Dredd in a way, is the black comedy of comic heroes, a conceptual joke – we’re supposed to love cops and brilliant heroes and cool uniforms and thrilling gun play – and we have it all here in one character and he’s clearly, ideologically something Theresa May would swoon over. He’s still awesome, but also terrible – kinda like Kenneth Clarke. 
 
I mean, there’s that bit in Apocalypse War where you think he’s going to shoot the pit full of survivors who just want to stop the pain and join the sovs. The fact that the writers knew a reader would be willing to mow down a ton of unarmed civilians says it all – kick ass hero or not.

 

 
Continuity –I can’t really comment on continuity in Dredd, never been too keen on 2000AD (though I am quite fond of Robo-Hunter). What I have seen from charity shop progs, the much missed 2004 Metro over the years and reading volume 5 of the Dredd case files, is a really cool sense of character and city – which I imagine has only expanded over the years. There’s a built in sense of characters, social classes, institutions all of which exist as some maddened allegory for UK political strife. Compared to Gotham or even Marvel NY – the support are wonderfully fleshed out and it really feels like a living breathing city planners career suicide. 
 
The 2000AD capacity for aging is pretty cool, especially next to the big 2. Cap Murica got pensioned then youthenized in 18 months. I love superhero comics but the eternal youth element of them is a bit dull. Grant Morrison tried to buck it a bit by making Dick Grayson Batman but New 52 kicked in and basically cost us the coolest stories ever. John Byrne, I think, did a DC elseworlds called Generations which was a really fun take on aging. 
 
Didn’t read much of L&R, apart from admiring the wit and the art, can’t say much on the continuity – though I am definitely intrigued now to see them age up. Alot of Webcomics have been good for this, especially the long running ones. Questionable Content for example moves very slowly, but it does reflect a consistent sense of time (same with Least I Could Do, which…well it was good when I was in secondary, though it’s fun to rifle through.) I’d read more but it’s really bloody dense, even if I have dug the non L&R stuff they’ve done.
 
Collin – 
 
On the colouring, so agree. I’m really fond of it and it makes the stories that much more readable. The art was always great, but it’s just way more fun to see the Judges and the apocalypse with full throttle colouring (and makes it way more readable, esp for someone who was running a torrent on a phone because the library was being a tool. Mobile comic reading, with a relatively big screen, is surprisingly fantastic!)

Neil Gaiman –

Finest is always a loaded term. I like Christines approach, he is definetely responsible for some of the most influential and thus important work in the medium today. And outside of Pratchett and Adams, the most revered sci-fi/fantasy writers around. I’m sure he’s written his fair share of guff but from what I’ve seen, I’ve been really impressed – sure American Gods was a bit of a Dirk Gently 2 rip off, but it was still damned brilliant, Sandman (only read the 1st volume) was just brilliant and remains a comic many “non-readers” rave about.

On the PEN front, I’m not sure I would have signed that letter to be honest. Yes, their cartooning is islamaphobic shit-hate. I know. But if you keep going after what they endured, if you refuse to back down, if it just makes you stauncher in your approach to what you intend to express – It’s not hard to see why PEN gave them the award. Plus top of my head, during the year, I can’t name a better example. If the dissent had given examples, then sure I might have been persuaded, but as it stands, they didn’t so all I see is an admirable dedication to expression (ideologically shitty as said expression may be).

 




Free expression has always been justified as essential to a society because it forces us to engage, on an equitable level ideas that the majority view as “reprehensible” “unacceptable” or “obscene”. Charlie Hebdo’s refusal to back down, at all, after that deserves merit and operates as an example of an institution not cowering in the face of violence – something the French political system (who keep passing ridiculous surveillance laws that Theresa May probably whacks off to) should look to.
If you want to effigy Gaiman over that, I’m fetching the water.
 
Nevs, hopefully I’m not taking his piece and putting it to a view he despises (http://londongraphicnovelnetwork.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/runaway-imagination-on-back-of-wild.html#more) – “Because no aspect of this industry can ever be governed by ‘I don’t like it.’ ” – Offers a quote I think quite apt.
 
Plus his Doctor Who episodes are fucking incredible – he wrote a chess sequence good enough to project on Bergmans tombstone ffs.
 
Outside of the discussion, one thing I was thinking about was: why the fuck do we like Dredd?
 
I mean, from what I know of the Barbican and Islington groups, the political leanings tend to lie closer to Corbyn than they do to Cameron – so when we’re talking about a protagonist like Dredd, who the creators have created as a facist parody – why do we actively like and root for him?
 
So in most of the stories I’ve read, he primarily does go up against straight up shit heads. Most progs aren’t interested in nuanced considerations of criminology. It’s more “Robo-mafioso is stewing up people for money”. Dredd does some bad ass stuff, stops him and the story ends. Apart from “America”, Dredd’s antagonists usually aren’t political nuanced. 
 
I mean next to Judge Death….you’d rather go for a pint with Dredd.
 
But considering the weight we apply to “likeable” to comic heroes, when Iron Man and all the rest are constantly questioned in light of their in built associations to questionable authoritarian institutions – why do we like a violent, fascist hard ass like Dredd?

 

 
Well… He’s fucking competent. He’s really fucking brilliant at what he does. The progs are all him being super crafty and kick ass and wailing on against weed like crime organisations. 
 
I don’t know if you guys have watched The Thick of It (You have to), but reading Apocalypse War, I felt like the reason my heart grew Dredd-locked was similar to why I loved Tucker in the end.
 
(Both of whom I would never, ever, EVER want to be in the same room in)
 
They’re both astoundingly competent bad asses. They’re terrifying, aggressive monstrosities dealing with other monstrosities and you side with them because they’re cooler, they’re way more competent. Morals aside, they’re impressive fuckers when they go to work.
 
Malcolm Tucker may be a satirical indictment of the 24 hour PR era of governance, but Iannucci never let him be anything over than an obscenely competent bad ass – even when he was out of cards, there’s a sadistic comic glee in watching him draw up a new one and jam it down someones throat.
 
Which is kinda why Dredd is great, he’s an authoritarian shit bird who probably needs to get laid or get high or something , but it’s beyond fun to watch him face off against impossible odds, not give a shit, cook up an insane plan and execute it.
 
For most of it, it’s Cops v Robbers, the robbers are clearly terrible and Dredd is the attractive, impressive lesser of two evils.

Please don’t tell me you read all this.
 

 

Re: these weird dinner parties where people talk about Love and Rockets all the time, I want an invite, can someone hook me up?

 
“Oh yes I simply adore Birdland, now pass the salmon puffs, there’s a good fellow!”
 
 




….Best dinner party ever.
 
Can i just get pissed and say Jimmy Corrigan 20 times in 20 different voices?
 

 

Oh – I’m sorry David: I’m guess they don’t have dinner parties in the The Caledonian Habitation Zone – huh?

 
😀
 

 

We do but all anyone wants to talk about is The Broons and no one even talks about it in silly voices :-/


 

I’m actually a dinner party right now: currently there’s quite a heated debate going on as to who would win in a fight between Persepolis and Maus. 

 

(The bell tolled at midnight – not sure if we’re still in the Dredd discussion, or into Grant Morrison’s book yet. Whatever…it’s a good discussion)

 

There was a good argument raging on twitter a few weeks back on this topic of elitism in geek media, largely fuelled by some Guardian critic (Jonathan Jones IIRC?) dismissing Terry Pratchett out of hand without having read any of his books. So that claiming the high ground does happen, and it’s rubbish, and yeah, we should all be free to read what we want without being judged.

 
How prevalent is that attitude of looking down on traditional genre work, though? Are the people who are promoting the mainstream literary/slice of life/graphic medicine/non-genre stuff actively dissing the likes of Dredd? I don’t see that in the Guardian articles, for example, so much as a very basic lack of knowledge, that’s a bit painful to read from my viewpoint inside the genre bubble. Kind of like hearing “Novels aren’t just Charles Dickens any more – Thomas Hardy’s been pushing the envelope quite recently, you know” (over 100 years ago). 
 
Some of the custodians of high-brow comics that I’ve come across recently seem quite welcoming of the full range. Few examples OTOH (from people I’ve met and like, so bias disclaimer, etc.):
 
– Page 45 comics shop reviews usually include one or two superhero books along with the mainstream
 
– The Lakes International Comic Arts Festival has guests from all over the spectrum. On the Dredd theme, they’ve got Mike McMahon coming this year (and as far as I know, he’s not promoting a new book about Russian Milkmaids, sadly. Would love to see his take on that, erm, popular genre).
 
– Paul Gravett, who carried the torch for all the alternative stuff in the 80’s onwards with Escape magazine, was curating an exhibition about Jack Kirby’s stuff in the last couple of years, and seems to be pretty enthusiastic about comics of all sorts
 
Comics, and geek culture in general, are in a weird place these days in becoming so accepted by mainstream culture. Which means a lot of people coming into the fold without the in-depth knowledge, like our often-clueless-seeming pals from the Guardian. And geek culture was, in my experience, a rather cosy bubble in the ’80’s and ’90’s, by which I mean it has it’s own tropes and conventions that you get kind of used to. 
All guns fire at will 
 
I had running arguments with several friends about whether comics were inherently rubbish or not, whether you had to be a total geek to enjoy them, stuff like that. Not about “worthiness”, but whether they might be able to enjoy them. I remember getting hold of the Morrison/McKean “Arkham Asylum” book, and showing it to one of those friends, 100% sure that it’d clinch things in my favour. They didn’t like the artwork, which I just couldn’t understand, and were asking every couple of pages “who’s the crocodile guy?”, “who’s this scarecrow?” etc. We ended up agreeing to disagree, and I don’t think I ever changed the mind of that person. Which doesn’t matter, in the end, I enjoyed the book, they didn’t – but it did make me look at it a second time, and realise that it required a reasonably in-depth knowledge of Batman’s back-story and supporting cast to make any sense. Which I really hadn’t seen until I tried to share it with an outsider. It was quite sobering to realise I’d got it so wrong, that I was so deep into a subculture that I couldn’t see what it was like to not be in it.
 
What am I trying to say here? I suppose that, in a lot of cases, what we might perceive as genre comics being judged as unworthy/low-brow, is actually just bemusement on the part of people who haven’t had as much (enough?!) exposure to the geek stuff. And the geek stuff isn’t for everyone. We will see more digestible hybrid work (e.g. Saga? WicDiv?), and also comics that just aren’t interested in the genre tropes at all. And a few pockets of genuine frightened disdain, that’ll stir things up amid the confusion.
 

Oh, and Amir, I did read all of that. Your argument about “why the fuck we like Dredd” was spot on, and the comparison to Malcolm Tucker inspired 🙂 I’d love to see the team up (maybe have a sov judge repeatedly standing in the way of Tucker’s speech bubbles to keep it “kid-friendly”?!)

 
2000AD had a great history of swearing, actually – all the “Grudd” stuff, and Strontium Dog’s “sneck” in particular. I remember one run where the “Next week” caption went to town on snecking, without much connection to what actually happened next week either. “Next week: No snecks please, we’re brutish” is still burned into my brain decades later.



 

DREDD’N’ROCKETS

I guess the idea of Love and Rockets being the acceptable face of comics – “dinner party” or “coffee table” fare, to use the politely accepted cliches – is just funny to me.  It’s a soap opera, aye, like The Archers, Eastenders, maybe like Dredd but I can’t claim any specialist knowledge there, about which more later.Well, okay – Love and Rockets is really two soap operas, one full of gorgeous punk girls and wrestlers and sci-fi superheroes, the other full of mystical portents and violent crime and frankly preposterously busty ladies.
 

My girlfriend: she exists, and she gives me laser eyes when she sees me reading a Gilbert Hernandez comic.

Which is fair enough, cos sometimes that comics is Birdland – porn comics as Jack Kirby might have drawn them.

The Hernandez brothers’ work is… not my vision of what a comic for people who don’t like comics looks like, basically.  The fact that we’re talking about it in those terms has a lot to do with its context as part of the Fantagrothics stable: comic books aren’t drunk on 80s/90s alt culture reality fetishism any more, but they’re(/we’re?) still maybe suffering the hangover.

Getting back to the question of whether Love and Rockets is any good for a minute, while the fact that it’s one long ongoing story doesn’t automatically make it worthwhile, that’s not totally worthless as a starting point.  Locas *is* one of the best ongoing stories I’ve ever read, from sheer surface appeal (the way its early detail flattened out into those deep, overwhelming blacks, the way the characters are so delicately but forcefully formed against it, the obsessive recycling of the artist’s personal fetishes on a level that reminds me of nothing less than Mignola’s Hellboy) to the manner in which its shifting modes (science fiction, after-school special, letter from a friend, superhero throwdown, straight melodrama) play off against the ageing solidity of its key players.

It’s also an excellent account of friendship – and maybe this applies to Dredd too, I’ve not read enough to say but  the Malcolm Tucker comparison seems like a better fit.  The strip format making Maggie and Hopey feel like an eternal constant even as the never-ending pile up of events and interruptions, not to mention the gradual shift in Jaime’s depiction of these characters, suggest the exact opposite.

David Fiore used to have some good stuff up about this, but it was on the blog he did to support his course on radical American thought and comics and the internet seems to have eaten that whole site – damn.  Anyway, Fiore had some thoughts about how the series makes something out of Jaime’s changing whims and interests, how people have different story types, how these clash and crossover… Annoying that I can’t find that now, but fuck it, Jaime plays these different tones off against each other like a maestro and Ghost of Hoppers and The Love Bunglers really reward the long term reader, playing off the complexity of character relationships that have built up over my life time.

This doesn’t make it an exceptional soap opera but a exemplary one, and if I have one regret here it’s that these stories tend to be discussed in comics internet/Fantagrothics terms, rather than discussed on lunch breaks or at the pub on sunny days after the latest issue drops.

 

Here’s John Carey talking about Dorothy Hobson’s Crossroads: The Drama of a Soap Opera, and giving a little hint at what I feel like I’m missing out on here:

The intellectual taunt that soap-watchers confuse fiction with reality seems largely unfounded. It is true that viewers occasionally wrote in trying to stay at or get jobs in the motel, and one actress who, in the serial, was considering an abortion was refused service in a Birmingham department store.  But these were exceptions.  Hobson found that views had a high level of critical awareness, based on a close knowledge of story lines, and rooted in their experience of everyday life.  Discussing characters in the soap as if they were real was a ‘game’ they played with one another, well aware of what they were doing… Viewers have a creative input, they add their own interpretation and understanding, and involve their own feelings and thoughts about how the situation should be coped with…

[I’ve got some unformed thoughts about how having one artist depict all of these changes gives the book a different feel from a soap with changing actors or a comic with rotating creative teams, feel free to form some of your own, I’m pressed for time plus lazy so I probably won’t make the effort today]

A lot of this goes for Gilbert’s Palomar stories too, but I’ve lost track of those in recent years and would need to read the recent stuff over before I said whether I thought it added up to much.  What I would say is that there are distinct stories there that work really well on their own – Poison River‘s fucking amazing, and so’s Love and Rockets X. These works achieve a ridiculous density of information, hoping from plot thread to plot thread in a way that’s so abrupt that it sometimes verges on montage…

 

It doesn’t quite get there though. Instead, it just makes the density and complexity of the connections inescapably vivid, almost like some sort of… graphic… novel.Oh shit.  Maybe Gary Groth was right!

 

COMICS // NOT FOR KIDS

I fucked up my Dredd appreciation early by trying to work back and read comics by writers I liked – Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, some prick called Mark Millar.  Those Dredd comics… weren’t very good, and I’ve never fully recovered from this mistake so while I’m a lot better on 2000AD now than I used to be – big up Bad Company, Zenith, Halo Jones, Indigo Prime, Nemesis plus mebbe a couple of new things like Zaucer of Zilk and Zombo – my Dredd knowledge is still thin and patchy to the point of baldness.

I’ve not read The Apocalypse War, but fuck me, it looks cool!

I don’t necessarily agree with Joel that Dredd’s a comic about nothing – certainly Day of Chaos felt like it was trying pretty hard to be “about” a few things – but one of the things I find most appealing about Dredd is just how his head looks, how his gun looks, how his bike looks, how the buildings look.

(Echoes of Joel saying “Star Wars is all about the machines”.)

Anyway, Dredd’s fist: you would gaze into it.

Fist of Dredd
 

As part of a live podcast performance(!) in 2015, my pal Dan White ended up sketching various 2000AD characters while kneeling on the floor with a bucket over his head and being used as a human footstool by my other pal Fraser.  (I have two friends, and yes, I do count myself lucky.)  What struck me about the quality of the chunky sketches Dan tossed off in these preposterous circumstances was how fucking perfect they were, how Dredd’s helmet made this possible, how perfect these characters would look slashed or sprayed into any random wall.

I’m not saying that this is the only level on which these characters function, but it occurs that if you’re going to do stories about characters who live in “A future world that keeps on getting more future”, like Joel says, it probably helps if they look so cool that you start to mentally overlay them onto the world around you.

It helps if you can make them part of your life.  You know, like the Love and Rockets characters…

 

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