Friday, March 27, 2015

No. 6 Carlos Ezquerra

First Prog: 2 (I'm counting his panel of Dredd that opens that first story)
Final Prog: please, not too soon.
(Last seen on Judge Dredd in Prog 1909, with new Strontium Dog just around the corner.)
First Meg: 4
Final Meg: not seen since illustrating a text story in Meg 324, but there’s always room in the Megazine for Carlos, surely?

Total appearances: 1010 (and counting!)
-including covers and interior strip work in the Progs, Megs, StarLord, Crisis and various Annuals and Specials from that stable…

…but not counting the many stories he drew for Battle/Action that might be considered part of the 2000 AD stable.

Creator / co-creator credits:
Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, Fiends of the Eastern Front, Third World War, Al’s Baby, Armageddon, Cursed Earth Koburn, Janus Psi, Durham Red

Gratuitous panel choice to draw in readers
Words by Alan Grant

Other 2000 AD story credits:
ABC Warriors, Tharg the Mighty, the Stainless Steel Rat, Anderson PSI Division, Purgatory, Bob the Galactic Bum, a couple of one-offs

Notable character creations:
What, besides Judge freakin’ Dredd?? Dredd’s bike and the basic look of Mega-City 1, check. Individual, distinguishable clones of Dredd, check. Many individual judges, including DeMarco, Guthrie and the current incarnation of Judge Giant, check (first seen in Prog 650, and still popping up with some frequency). 

Words by John Wagner.
Three generations of Dredd clones, all the same but all different.
And then there’s everything about Strontium Dog, including too many different mutant designs to count.
Worth singling out: Durham Red, Middenface McNulty, Judge Janus and Judge DeMarco – all of whom went on to have their own solo series. This is presumably based on the character’s popularity, and you can bet that this was massively enhanced by Ezquerra’s sterling design work.
And, yes, it’s worth dwelling on the above-mentioned Fiends and to a lesser extent Koburn (based very explicitly on his early Battle hero, Major Eazy, in turn derived from James Coburn’s character in the Magnificent Seven*), who have stuck in mind far longer than there actual presence in the Prog/Meg.

Notable characteristics:
Thick black outlines. Incredibly, and I do mean incredibly clear storytelling skills. 

Words by John Wagner
Gunplay by Carlos Ezquerra

Intricately realized weapons and vehicles that look as if they have working parts, not just random twiddles drawn on top. The ability to make characters distinguishable by their noses alone. A fearless and seemingly inexhaustible imagination that can conjure up delightfully weird looking mutants and aliens for throwaway usage. Tackling epic weekly runs without missing deadlines or suffering any drops in quality.

Words by Wagner & Grant

On Carlos:
Carlos’s rise to UK comics prominence began long before 2000AD, but for me the real heart of his career begins with a story of genius, pride and tenacity. First, the genius part: he designs Judge Dredd, who will go on to become the UK’s most enduring comics character, and I suspect its best known, internationally speaking**. Then, he suffers the frustration of seeing said creation drawn by a different artist in the first episode to see print. (Ezquerra’s own pilot episode was banned for being too violent / not futuristic enough, and didn’t see print until an Annual three years later). Being proud, he quits. Being tenacious, he decides to have another go. Not at Dredd (yet), but, ever the gifted creator, he goes on to come up with Strontium Dog for StarLord – a character and concept that will rival Dredd himself in popularity, if not in international recognition.

And speaking of tenacity, Ezquerra’s workrate is something of a wonder to behold. I suppose any professional artist is theoretically capable of working to order almost continuously, but the man was prodigious! Once he started on Strontium Dog in StarLord 1 (folding into Prog 86), he seemed to be in some Tharg publication or other almost continuously until, what, the last few years? And since then it’s been a case of getting at least two Ezquerra treats every year, many of those being good long 12-week runs. To a certain extent, this sustained association with the earliest decade of 2000 AD means Ezquerra’s art cannot help but have an old-fashioned quality to it, but it’s never less than delightful, and it’s sufficiently idiosyncratic that one imagines new readers who are unfamiliar with his style are wouldn’t dismiss it as ‘retro’.

Let’s do a run-through of the great man’s Thargian career, eh:
Words by John Wagner
  • Phase 1 (StarLord 1-22  + Progs 86-118): Strontium Dog. A run that sees Carlos develop and refine his version of Johnny Alpha, but really only a little bit. Visually and thematically, this strip was pretty much perfect from the outset. Journey into Hell provides an artistic peak, especially with some dramatic full-colour centre-spreads.
  • Phase 2 (Progs 129-177, with gaps): Bit of a break to dabble in different genres: an arc on ABCs, (and, to my mind, one of the few times the great man has not proven quite so great. Something about his thick lines seems to work against robot designs); war/horror with the Fiends; space opera romping with a couple of Stainless Steel Rats. A Tharg the Mighty here and there, cementing the new look and attitude of the green one (as a bad-tempered jumpsuited super powerful egomaniac) that will last for the next decade, as well as establishing (I think?) the look of his Nerve Centre droids.***
    Words by Kelvin Gosnell (with a debt to Harry Harrison, of course)
    And let's pause to appreciate Carlos's facility with drawing sexy ladies without veering into brokeback territory.
  • Phase 3 (Progs 178-233): An unbelievably strong run of Strontium Dog, including Portrait of a Mutant, one of the best origin stories in comics.
  • Phase 4: (Progs 245-334) Barnstorming return to his creation, Judge Dredd, beginning with the Apocalypse War, and then continuing on to a run of shorter but equally brilliant series (Fungus, anyone? The Starborn Thing? The Executioner? Classics every one. Meka-City, not so much…) 

Words by Wagner and Grant

Warping Judges. I love these pre-computer effects panels.
Words by Wagner & Grant
  • Phase 5 (Progs 335-573, with very short breaks): Back to Strontium Dog for an indecently extended run of punishingly long epics, including Outlaw! (23 episodes); The Ragnarok Job (21 episodes); Rage (21 episodes); Bitch! (25 episodes) - pausing only to dash off the final (and best, artistically) Stainless Steel Rat serial.

Words by Wagner and Grant

  • Phase 6 (Crisis 1-21): Third World War. Frankly this was always a bit of an odd fit. I mean, you can see why Mills wanted to get Ezquerra on board to set the tone for the comic and especially for the strip, which needed well-defined characters to take the edge off the scripts, filled as they were with overt messaging. But in the end, the overly political/moralizing nature of Third World War just didn’t gel with straight-up action storytelling. The strip almost demanded one of those pretentious, impenetrable hot young artists that rose to prominence in the early 90s (several of whom, in fact, did go on to continue the series). As things went, Ezquerra stopped after providing a couple of 6-issues runs. I’ve no idea why, but it allowed for…
  • Phase 7 (Progs 650-1110, with gaps): Back to Dredd, with the build up, execution and epilogues to Necropolis, another enormously long, unbroken run of weekly comics – this time in full colour! Ezquerra, I believe, started off using watercolour swatches that work wonders with the unsettling atmosphere of the Dark Judges, keeping them creepy. Soon enough, he’d dare to teach himself computerized colour methods that produced mixed results with the Wilderlands epic, before settling into a more straightforward look that saw readers through the Pit and Bad Frendz chapters of Dredd’s life.  
Words by John Wagner
But the palpable fear is all Carlos Ezquerra.

    Words by John Wagner
  • Phase 8 In between Dredd epics he produced Al’s Baby for the Megazine, part of the top-tier team needed to launch the new comic, and a showcase for Ezquerra’s excellent touch with comedy, and bashed out a respectably fun Durham Red series. This same talent for comedy helped to elevate a number of Dreddworld scripts produced by the likes of Ennis, Millar and Morrison during the same period. For the sake of saying something nice, to my mind Ezquerra was ideally suited to bringing out the OTT violence this new breed of writers all seem to love. Exhibit A:
Words by Grant Morrison
You gotta admire the way it goes right past unsubtle and into 'holy God, he's not even joking'.
It's also worth noting that Ezquerra produced a good run of comics in the US written by Garth Ennis, which continue the ultra-violence and comedy.

  • Phase 9: (Prog 1174-today): Periodic, and sometimes concurrent work on longer Dredd serials and new, Wagner-penned Strontium Dog tales, with a bit of Koburn along the way. If anything, the wait between serials just makes the art more glorious when it returns.
I’ve not covered absolutely everything the man has drawn or achieved, but by God if this little run-through isn’t enough to make you rummage through your collections for an eyeful then I haven’t done my job properly.

Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd: the Apocalypse War; Requiem for a heavyweight; Young Giant; Necropolis; Sector House; Brothers of the Blood
Strontium Dog: Journey into Hell; Outlaw!; The Rammy; Roadhouse
Fiends of the Eastern Front
The Stainless Steel rat for President
Judge Anderson: the Random Man 
Durham Red: Isle of the Damned
Al’s Baby: the art across all three series is hilarious.

Carlos Ezquerra, may you live a long and continually fruitful life. We salute you.

Words by John Wagner

If you want to hear from the man himself, check out episodes 3 and 4 of the 2000 AD Thrillcast.
To hear his thoughts on Strontium Dog, here's a neat interview from Dogbreath magazine.

*not to mention Coburn generally; a charismatic screen presence, to be sure, but not noted for his range.

**Reckon he took that crown from Dan Dare at some point around 20 years ago. Dennis the Menace would’a been a contender if it wasn’t for his irritating, unrelated, but similarly-monikered American counterpart, Dennis the Menace (sometimes known as Denis in the UK, to avoid confusion).

***Where Ezquerra had the chance to come up with the look of the robots himself, they work perfectly.

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