Saturday, May 20, 2017

No. 105 Dom Reardon

First Prog: 1021 (a star scan); 1301 (interior strip)
Latest Prog: 1868

Total appearances: 87


Creator credits:

Caballistics, Inc
The Grievous Journey of Ichabod Azrael (and the dead left in his wake)

Other art credits:
The Ten Seconders
a handful of Terror Tales
-I think he’s also one of the first artists on the countdown who has never drawn an episode of Judge Dredd – or even an incidental picture.

Notable character creations:
Ichabod Azrael
The cast of Caballistics, Inc
-         including Harry Absalom

This convenient cover shows off the cast of Caballistics neatly
Notable characteristics:
Ink that feels like blood. Portentous use of empty space. Deadpan humour. Deadpan horror. Stylish sound effects. Pages where he uses panel borders to highlight different parts of a scene for dramatic effect, that mimic the readers’ gaze rather than showing progress in time.*

Why don't more artists use this neat comics trick?
Words by Gordon Rennie
The thing is, Reardon has basically only worked on two series, so it’s very hard to separate the artist and his style from the specific needs of those series. But by gosh he was perfectly suited to both contemporary British horror and period western hellscapes.

A car in the rain says 'film noir', but the style of the rain and the headlights give the whole panel a horror vibe, no?
Words by Al Ewing (I think)

On Dom:
Well, here’s an artist who seemingly went from 0-100 in the blink of an eye! Apart from a rogue painted star scan,


he didn’t trouble Tharg much until a very small string of moody Terror Tales singled him out as the ideal foil for Gordon Rennie’s masterpiece**, Caballistics, Inc. Actual publication dates even suggest there was an overlap between the commissions.

In any event, Reardon’s stark, black and white dread from his first published Terror Tales

Little touches like the wooden beam and the loose light bulb really sell this gruesome scene.
Words by Gary Simpson
If I hadn't just recently scanned this in, I'd never have guessed it wasn't a scene from Caballistics, Inc. But it isn't!
Words by Gary Wilkinson
were every bit as fully formed as his stark, black and white dread on Cabs

These panels set the scene for the very first episode: quiet European splendour mixed with creepy dudes in mansions.
Words by Gordon Rennie
and indeed he maintained a joyfully consistent style across the next few years as the exclusive artist on that epic series.

And this sets the scene for the final series, in which Glasgow is laid waste.
Can you spot a change in style?
Words by Grennie

 The art was a huge part of the success of the strip, which needed to be both chilling and humourous, with characters selling the story as much through their expressions and body language as through their dialogue.

Doing a lot with a little. Those two flasks are just enough to bring the vibe.
Words by Gordon Rennie
There’s a lingering background of sleaze and devilry that massively add to the tone of the piece. But even in 2000AD, you couldn’t show what people like Ravne were actually up to. Rennie no doubt provided careful descriptions of the sorts of things he got up to behind closed doors (and sometimes in front of them), but it’s Reardon who brings that necessary layer of sleaze in what he does show, which sparked all sorts of dark corridors in my imagination.

Yeah, that's definitely blood drizzled on the arm there. Brrrr!
Words by Grennie (and what a way to introduce a new character!)

Not subtle, but effective.
That's the abrasive but hilarious Hannah Chapter - who has her own woes, of course:

This is called 'using negative space to bring emotion to a scene'.
Words by Gordon Rennie

And then there’s the plotlines, which move from haunted tube stations


to fairies at the bottom of the garden.


Reardon’s work did get better over the years on the series, but frankly not by much – because it started off so well! There is no more Caballistics, Inc, which is very sad***, but the same story did introduce one Harry Absolam

What if Einstein was a grizzled Lahndan copper?
Words by Gordon Rennie
who we now know and love as Harry Absalom. Reardon sowed the seeds that newcomer Tiernan Trevallion has run with. Not the same style, but very much the same tone, I find.

Moving on, Reardon was trailed as the artist who would take over from Mark Harrison for Book two of the Ten Seconders. A more different style I couldn’t imagine! Harrison is of course the master of the digital form, and he loves to load his panels with details, using bright colours, dark shadows and shiny textures to communicate all sorts. Reardon uses small but thick black lines, and lots of white space. For this job, he chose to move to fully painted, full-colour art, with spectacular results. Sadly also not very many results, presumably finding it just too burdensome a technique. But by gosh, it was gorgeous stuff.

It's still trademark Reardon, with its sparse backgrounds, deliberate use of space, and of course giant sound effects.
But it looks like a whole new thing. The power of colour, I guess.
Words by Rob Williams
I’m guessing there was no bad blood, as writer Rob Williams (not to mention editor Matt Smith) went to Reardon again for one of the most original new series to hit the prog, the Grevious Journey of Ichabod Azrael (and the dead left in his wake). It’s entirely unlike his Cabs work, while actually using many of the same underlying tricks, such as minimalist backgrounds, and careful posing.

Could there be a more definitive panel for this strip?
Context by Rob Williams

Also lots more character-based humour in his facial expressions and body language.

This is what it looks like when someone you know has just said something super racist.
Words by Rob Williams

Bringing a little Caballistics to the old West.
Words by Rob Williams
Unlike the sprawling cast of Cabs, Ichabod Azrael is all about its protagonist, who tends to remain pretty stoic and expressionless. He's also kind of scarily ugly, a neat design that Reardon brings to life. He's not meant to be a noble soul, he's kinda grubby and irredeemable. That's a big part of the story, and it's one the art gets involved in through mixing up the styles. Demons are rendered in basic pencils, the protagonists in stark inks, and the secret desires of Ichabod's mind are in crystal clear colours...  

Book 2, you see, was mostly about our 'hero' entering the meta-narrative and coloured-in world of love conquering all. Sort of. For me, Reardon's work on Book 1 feels more confident here than on Cabs, but it was mostly the same kind of stuff used to great effect. Book 2, which was almost entirely in colour, went to another level. Here's our man, not blinking under an avalanche of bloody mayhem. The full colour effect sort of disguises the 'no backgrounds' trick, with the white-but-blue background doing crazy amounts of work.


 Reardon’s effort with the palette lasted a little longer this time (8 episodes!), but apparently it’s his nemesis, as he had to bow out of completing Book 2 – and hasn’t been back since. 

What we’re left with is an amazingly consistent body of work, which happens to be on two of my all-time favourite series (Top 20 for sure). It’s not a coincidence, but it is perhaps reflective of the fact that Reardon’s style is especially well suited to the sorts of things I like, namely creepy horror and violent eschatology. Not many strips combine those themes, but he did have a crack at the cover of one of them, and jolly ripping fun it was too, what…

It's Harry Kipling! The reanimated corpse of a God-hunting retro-Brit.
No, I don't know how a megaphone gun works, either.

I guess I'll just have to wait patiently until another series comes along that has need of his particular talents.

More on Dom Reardon
A super old interview on Freaky Trigger
There’s also a dedicated Caballistics, Inc fan page if you fancy that.
And here's a sample of covers he's been doing recently for James Bond

Personal favourites:
Caballistics, Inc
The Grievous Journey of Ichabod Azrael (and the dead left in his wake)
-and the couple of episodes of Ten Seconders he painted were ace, too.


*If nothing else, this kind of pretentious drivel from me may prompt someone to go a read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics to find out more about what comics panels can do with time, space and impact.

**To my mind, it’s by far the best work he’s done for Tharg, except perhaps for some of his Dredds

***although, after reading the complete digital collection, it’s actually much more of a closed story than I remembered it being at first.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

No. 104 Kev Hopgood

First Prog: 426  
Latest Prog: 939 (interior strip, sort of) 957 (cover art)

First Meg: 348
Latest Meg: 353

Total appearances: 87
-including the recent ‘Man from the Ministry’ creator-owned bit in the Megazine

Creator credits:
Night Zero
Dry Run

Dig the super toyetic car on the cover that is not, I believe, actually based on a toy.
Other art credits:
Judge Dredd
Harlem Heroes (new style)
A handful of Future Shocks

Notable character creations:
(I have a soft spot for Tanner’s supporting cast, too, but I wouldn’t call them notable)

Cyborg vs MACH man, and only 1 can win!
Bonus points for referencing another 80s-tastic video hit, Stallone's 'Over the Top'.
Notable characteristics:
Clean style. Angular lines. Punch-ups, dust-ups, zapping and action sequences galore. There’s a reason he went on from 2000AD to draw Iron Man* for a number of years.
He does a neat line in generic baddies wearing the 80s version of futuristic garb:

This panel is so generic I can't remember what strip its from. Judge Dredd, I think?
Words by Alan Grant, maybe?
I also love the way he draws hands and fingers, it’s a communication device in its purest form!

No one draws a finger pushing a button like Kev Hopgood. Well, maybe Carlos Ezquerra.
Words by Michael Fleisher
On Kev:
Some context here – my history as a 2000AD reader meant I followed the Prog very sporadically between 439 and 500ish, then abandoned it in favour of Whizzer & Chips for a brief period**.

I cam back to the Prog around 640ish, all of 12 years old, and proceeded to read and devour the missing period (thanks to my big brother’s stash). This included Night Zero, which at the time I thought was about the most sophisticated bit of writing ever, full of twists, surprises and that sweet, sweet noir atmosphere. This is not, I think, a commonly held opinion. But I can’t forget that feeling and will love this series till my dying day.

Even now that I see it for the cliché-fest it is.

Monologuing villain, check. Henchman with blade, check; woman in peril, check; gruff, grimacing hero, check.
Words by John Brosnan.

A HUGE part of my love for it was and remains the welcome relief provided by Kev Hopgood’s art. It made the series look grown-up, with its hard men, hard women, sultry women and Taxi Driver evoking mood. The art also allowed me to follow what was going on from panel to panel, unlike contemporary artists such as John Hicklenton (on Nemesis IX), Will Simpson (on Soft Bodies and Judge Dredd) and Simon Harrison (on the Final Solution). Frankly, Hopgood and Night Zero provided me with an island of sanity in a morass of art, ideas and creative insanity that I was not equipped to handle back then.

I do get, in hindsight, that he was dutifully filling the Burton-mandated slot of ‘stories for 12-year-olds’ – you know, the readers the Prog was originally intended for.

Such fun!
This could be Brosnan, but it has the ring of Fleisher
And poor old Hopgood continued to shoulder this burden, with two more adventures for Tanner and the crew of Zero city, with stand-alone adventure series Dry Run, and of course Harlem Heroes. Hopgood gamely finished off series 1, and pencilled a second series that was shelved for years before Tharg decided it’d be fun to get Siku to paint on top of it and make it so over the top readers couldn’t fail to see the joke.

OK, that’s the context, what about the art itself? Personally speaking, much as I can understand why readers and fans don’t express much love for the stories Hopgood worked on, the way he drew them was a) exactly appropriate for the strips, and b) really bloody good.

Like many an artist, he began with some Future Shocks that gave him a chance to develop his style.***

This very early effort has a real classic comics feel to it, matching the tone of the story.
Words by Peter Milligan

This one has a hint of Alan Davis, a master worth drawing on!
Words by G. Bell

Ah, the joys of the Commodore 64 and its chunky joystick.
Words by Alex Stewart
Night Zero was the brainchild of the late John Brosnan, then 2000AD’s resident film critic, and I think a buddy of Alan McKenzie from his Sci-Fi/movie magazine days. It’s a sci-fi noir that trades in action movie and thriller clichés, while deliberately subverting them. Brosnan’s big thing was about having women who appeared to conform to a stereotype, only to then be different, only to then revert to type again, sort of.

Trapped in the middle is Tanner, an ex-soldier turned cab driver who basically doesn’t give a crap about anything around him, but is a decent enough guy that he’ll help someone who’s in a jam. With a robot arm that shoots lasers. Your typical 2000AD hero, in other words. I lover Tanner.

This is almost fully-formed Hopgood - but he's experimenting with a lusher style.
Words by John Brosnan
Hopgood fleshes out the world, designing a combat-proof taxi and some smoky mean streets, and a fashion sense right out of 1980s action movies. The cheap kind, like Death Wish 3 or Class of 1999 what have you. 

No, we haven't lost the balloons, it's just a well-executed wordless sequence.
The wisps of smoke and flashing lights on the buildings are ace.
Context by John Brosnan

Tanner wears a vest and a sleeveless jacket (to show off his arms). Femme fatale (or is she?) Alanna wears a slinky dress under a trench coat. Evil crime Lord (or is he?) Mr Nemo wears a dressing gown. And then there’s Dolly, who is either a laudable example of an under-represented group, or else an insanely backward cliche of a butch lesbian. You decide!

Dolly is actually a laugh across three series.
Words by John Brosnan

The silliness continues for two more stories. Beyond Zero introduces a feminist robot and a daftly stupid action man, both proving good for some chuckles.

Beyond Zero saw Hopgood pare back his style, focussing on the dynamism. And the gunshots.
Words by John Brosnan
And of course, a cover for the ages: 

There's that car again!
The strip ended up in full colour in Below Zero. For some reason this final outing seems to be much hated. Yes, it’s kind of a ‘virtual reality prison’ story writ large, and yes, there are parts of this basic setting that reminded readers of Total Recall (then a recent hit movie). But I remember not being bothered by that and enjoying it. Of course Hopgood’s art is just getting better and better by this point, and the switch to colour makes a lot of sense given the virtual reality angle.

This is some lush cartooning right here. It also has some serious 60s/70s John Burns vibes going for it, that
match the content of the virtual reality setting in this scene.
Words by John Brosnan

Whereas this scene is 100% 1980s. With bonus expressive hand!
Words by John Brosnan

Backpeddling to Dry Run, well, there’s a long-lost series I won’t defend. Its main problem is that it’s boring. It’s the future, and Earth is all dried up, so water is a precious commodity, and most of the world is barren desert where the oceans used to be. People roam around in Mad Maxish gangs, only with less fetish wear. Our heroes are one such gang, who share a psychic report. Nice ingredients, could be fun.

See, the ingredients are there, and Hopgood nails the cinematic feel of establishing shot, group shot,
villain reveal. It just kind of went nowhere.
Words by Tise Vahimagi
20 years later under Dan Abnett and Richard Elson, Kingdom WAS a lot of fun, and it’s not a million miles away in the sort of story it’s telling. But Dry Run, written by Tise Vahimage****, couldn’t quite find the angles to keep the story dramatic and thrilling beyond, well, the cover that set it up...

Skulls, swords, horses, deserts, oil refineries - such high hopes!
 Hopgood does his 80s action thing with the designs and they’re find and all, but overall the whole thing felt a little too functional.

Irena provides about the only excitement - which man will she choose? Whose side is she on?
What effect will she have on the gang's psychic bond?
Are questions that readers are almost moved to ask.
Words by Tise Vahimagi.
After seeing out the end of Harlem Heroes, the interminable first series, Harlem Heroes: Cyborg Death Trip provded an interesting experiment in ‘spot the artist’, (with Siku at first colouring over Hopgood's basically finished art, then later going nuts with the paint) but is hard to take seriously as a story. I will say that Hopgood maintained his appeal to my inner 12-year old Sci-Fi action comics fan. And he got to add two new members to the cast who are right out of The Running Man era of hard-nosed but noble-minded thugs.

Words by Michael Fleisher
And that would have been the end, if Gordon Rennie hadn’t plucked Hopgood out of nowhere – or away from Doctor Who comics, at any rate - as the perfect artist to render one of his more recent slices of Brit TV nostalgia, Man from the Ministry. Lots of shiny metal corridors, people wearing sharp suits, and a story driven by relentless action from panel to panel that needs the clear storytelling skills of a Hopgood to work as well as it does.

Hopgood has refined his style even more, losing none of the dynamism.
Words by Gordon Rennie
Here to serve your thickly-creased clothing needs.
Words by Gordon Rennie
Let's round off with a handful of covers, which never do less than sell the promise of action galore for the pages inside, ideally with a side of hot metal death...




More on Kev Hopgood:
His blog:
An interview about his time on Iron Man
and indeed a YouTube clip about War Machine
Not much online about his 2000AD days, sadly. You'll have to dig out Megazine 350!


Personal favourites:
Night Zero, Beyond Zero and, yes, Below Zero.
Man from the Ministry

*He even designed War Machine – the armoured version, that is, not Jim Rhodes the long-standing character who fits inside the armour. But it's given him an international superhero legacy to match another 2000AD alumnus with a Marvel hit on his hands, Mike Collins.

**My favourite character from that time may have been Watford Gapp, the King of Rap, who I suspect is at the very bottom of Rebellion’s ‘reprint this now!’ list.

***And I guess he honed his skills over in Marvel UK, where he drew the much-forgotten toy tie-in Zoids, scripted by Mr. Grant Morrison. I am exactly the right age to remember and have liked zoids as toys. They’re basically robot skeleton animals that you build yourself like easy mechano, given a sort of Transformers-ish narrative to fight in. Hopgood was a natural fit.

****A fellow Starburst contributor and friend of Brosnan’s, mostly known I believe for his writing about TV and film rather than stories. Starburst has a touching tribute to the writer, who passed away in 2013. (Turns out he's Welsh, which I'd not have guessed from the name, but I am very ignorant.)
While I’m at it, here’s a piece about John Brosnan’s funeral, in 2005.