Monday, 6 September 2010

Mega mega

From time to time I mention that I’d like to run away from London and live somewhere quieter. Somewhere in the countryside. West Wales perhaps. The North probably. I spent most of my childhood in a rural setting, the kind of place where you could wake up and find a cow had invaded the garden. At the time, surrounded by all that fresh air and greenery, where I really wanted to live was Mega City One, the fictional stamping ground of Judge Dredd. This was entirely down to the artwork of Carlos Ezquerra.

Ezquerra illustrated most of the Judge Dredd stories in a run from prog 245 through to about prog 320. He came back every so often and the last big story I remember him doing was Necropolis, but by then my interest was waning.

I've not read enough comics to say that his depiction of the future is unique but I certainly preferred it to the other artists in 2000AD (with Mike McMahon a not particularly close second). When I was a kid megacities seemed a certainty (like BosWash). Now though, what with ecological concerns and the massive advances in IT, we’ll probably all be living in sensibly distributed eco-units, attending work (if at all) by some kind of holographic conference call type thing (like in The Naked Sun or A Very Private Life).

When I was little I used to find it a downer that it was all so far off into the future (the Apocalypse War is set in 2105) and that I probably wouldn't be around to witness it. So I was cheered up by the story Night of the Rad Beast, when two of the characters' dates of birth were given and they were slightly older than me. Maybe I'd live to see the Mega City after all, even if I had to become a decrepit cyborg to do so.

I soon started to buy up older issues of 2000AD (and the defunct Starlord) and saw his artwork for the Strontium Dog stories. Following the caseload of an interstellar bounty hunter gave a lot more scope for illustrating alien life forms. Like Dredd, the stories are shot through with a dark strain of humour. One of my favourites was The Killing, in which plot is dispensed with and, as the name suggests, it just gets straight to business with some fantastic pictures of aliens blasting/gutting/dissolving each other.

There’s just the right touch of pulp or hack work to his pictures – hardly surprising given that I read somewhere that he was churning out the artwork for the episodes of the Apocalypse War on a weekly basis rather than months in advance. In most of his pictures there's tons of grimy detail. In an interview he cited as his major influences Breccia and Hugo Pratt, neither of who I'd heard of but after a little digging I can certainly see the influence of Hugo Pratt.

Sci fi films rarely get both the look of the cities or the outfits right or credible. Often the clothing styles are mimimal, white robes or utilitarian uniform type outfits. Compared to these stiff and sterile depictions Ezquerra’s future seems pretty funky. I’m amazed that no film makers have ripped him off – it can’t be that expensive, just lots of rubbery foam to make the outfits (all those knee and shoulder pads).


  1. Big fan of Dredd and Ezquerra's work - see also: Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons and Ron Smith. I always thought Blade Runner borrowed heavily from the Mega City graphics. One shot (in early scene) features a triangular type civic building, which can be plainly spotted some years earlier in a Dredd strip..

  2. Yes, Blade Runner still sets the bar for future cities. I remember the fuss 2000AD made about it but I was too young to see it at the pictures at the time. I actually thought the cityscapes in the Judge Dredd film were pretty impressive, it's just a shame everything else about it stank.

    After years of being curious about it I went to see Metropolis a while back at the NFT. Again the city was impressive, but let down rather badly by the histrionic acting.

    Of the artists you mention I absolutely loved Bolland - I was catching up with his stuff in those Titan reprints, he was so precise. Dave Gibbons I never got too excited about (he didn't do Dredd did he? More Rogue Trooper? oh, and Watchmen of course).

    Ron Smith I gradually came round too, but he suffered (in my opinion anyway) by following straight on from Ezquerra's run. When I got the back issues though I really liked his earlier things like Father Earth and the Hot Dog Run.

  3. I was in with 2000AD from ish 1 until into 100s, but bailed before it really took off so not to sure of the timelines. I missed the fuss, but remember reading some Dredd collection in '85 then watching Blade Runner and thinking 'Hang on a mo' so can why they would have been a bit riled.

    Bolland is the kiddie - I take it you've read The Killing Joke? Got to give it a squint if not

  4. No, they made a good fuss, like it was the best film ever. I'll be on the look out for that building now though. I know I have read The Killing Joke, but I admit I can't remember any of it.

    When I was ten I wanted to be able to draw like Bolland, but flipping through the progs for some of the scans it was the art of Mike McMahon (The Shoggy Beast and Sky Chariots) and Kevin O'Neill (Nemesis book 3) that set it apart from everything else. Just really weird and adventurous. The last comic I bought before my interest faltered for a few years was The Last American - McMahon's artwork for that is bordering on abstract.

  5. This is all a closed world to me, but I did enjoy reading about it.

  6. Cheers Davy. And now, your bassline...

  7. Great post. I dipped in and out but am in the process of buying the Dredd complete files I'm up to number 6 of 16 so far.

    Rogue Trooper was my favourite in 2000AD

  8. I bought the first two Strontium Dog anthologies in a second hand bookshop a few weeks ago, that's what prompted the post really.

    Yeah, Rogue Trooper's up there as one of the best characters they ever produced - until they extended the storyline beyond the death of the Traitor General.

  9. I'm a Bolland man, too. The bits he drew for 'The Cursed Earth' saga are among the best comic art ever produced, in my view.

    I never clocked the Hugo Pratt influence until you mentioned it, and now I can really see it. Corto Maltese looks a lot like 'Major Eazy' that Esquerra did for Battle. Does anyone know if there's an English translation of Corto Maltese? I've never found one and the staff at Forbidden Planet (bags with a Bolland illustration in it) didn't know if there is one ...

  10. I haven't got my copies to hand and I can hardly remember Bolland's episodes of the Cursed Earth - just the one where they learn about Tweak and the Jolly Green Giant one. I think McMahon must have drawn most of it?

    I used to have one of the Burger Wars progs - the one where Ronald McDonald executes a member of staff for spilling ketchup. I sold it to one of my brother's mates for about a quid. Doh!

    Can't help on the Corto Maltese I'm afraid.

  11. Bolland only did a few, and some of the ones he did didn't make it to the Titan reprints because IPC were sued over copyright/defamation (or something) - the Jolly Green giant section was one, I think (and McM's 'Burger Wars').