Monday, September 28, 2015

No. 47 Richard Elson

First Prog: 564
Latest Prog: 1909 – with more Kingdom to come, at the very least.

First Meg: 3.69 (aka 172)
Latest Meg: 242 (on the cover); on the inside 4.12 (aka 194) – a very long time ago, but no reason why he won’t appear in its pages again one day.

Total appearances: 197 and counting
-including a fair handful of colouring work on top of other artists.

Creator credits:
Shadows; Roadkill; Atavar; A.H.A.B.; The Scrap; Kingdom; Marauder; Go Machine  

Atavar tries on a new suit.
Words by Dan Abnett

Other art credits:
Judge Dredd
Tyranny Rex
Maniac 5
Rogue Trooper
A handful of Future Shocks

Notable character creations:
It’s hard to look past the awesomeness of Gene the Hackman, but before that there was:
The unnamed Atavar and the various alien / AI creatures he encountered
Captain Ahab and his space whale (obviously the ‘character’ is Herman Melville’s really, but Elson did a bang-up job of designing this Space Opera variant!)
The Lawlords, sometime enemies of Judge Dredd

Notable characteristics:
Fun; bright colours; snarls; action, action, action; looks of stark terror.

On Richard:
Richard Elson got his start with 2000 AD rather a long time ago, in the usual way, with a handful of Future Shocks and then a one-off series, Shadows. In some ways his art was a little rough around the edges, but I rather liked it, it was a pretty neat contrast to some of the other artists of the day (coughSimonBisleycough), not least the vibrant colours (some of which were produced by Elson himself, but also Tim Perkins). He had some crazy hairstyles going.

The Shadows of the title are the underclass - people living in slums, basically.
Words by Peter Milligan

Definite Matrix vibe going on (some 10 years before the movei, mind!)
Words by Peter Milligan
I didn’t notice it at the time, but I get the distinct impression now that he was following hard in the footsteps of art legend Brendan McCarthy. Check out these two Elson star scans, one from his early days…
It's all about the slope of the helmet

and one from more recently, celebrating a Dredd episode that you’d have to say Elson chose to draw, rather than being commissioned.* 
Some classic snarling and grimacing going on, too.

For who knows what reasons (although working on Sonic the Comic was presumably one big reason), Elson hardly appeared in the Prog again, until one day he was back, and from then his star has risen and risen and risen. He tackled a handful of Dredds in the Megazine, and honestly, he’s such a good fit for the world of Mega City 1 that I don’t quite understand why he hasn’t done more. He even got to design the Lawlords, villains who are, arguably, an alternate take on Judge Death. Where Death is about pushing Dredd’s resort to killing to an (il)logical extreme, the Lawlords show what would happen if you pushed Dredd’s steadfast obsession with upholding the law to an (il)logical extreme.

Big chin, bigger chin
Words by John Wagner
From that point, Elson got more and more steady work, much of it on a rather particular theme. He’s the go-to man for ‘everything’s going/gone to hell’ future society stories. I wouldn’t entirely call them dystopias, it’s less ideological than that word implies. The Scrap, the most overtly dystopian, isn’t at all like Shadows, but nonetheless feels a lot like that earlier series. Both have female protagonists who struggle against what they learn to be an oppressive regime that specifically holds back the poor. And both have an atmosphere of drudgery (although The Scrap is entirely grey, where Shadows was cyber-psyche-delic-tastic.)

In the Scrap, the hero is a law officer working to help keep the underclass down. For a time.

Roadkill, again entirely different, has the air of ‘oh shit, things are about to get a bit tricky…’, with its tale of a man pursued by his own Googledrive car. Elson’s first collaboration with writer Dan Abnett, it’s very clearly about the inexorable death of life as we know it. The first step on a long journey that eventually ends with the world of Atavar, perhaps?

Killer cars on the loose
Words by Dan Abnett
Atavar, set in the far, far, far, future, follows the story of the last human, a man who fell asleep one day, then woke in deep space surrounded by mysterious enemies, and sometimes allies. Across three series, our hero jumps forward in time, with occasional changes in who is meant to be good, and who bad. In all honesty, I enjoyed Elson’s designs and action sequences more than Abnett’s writing. In between bouts of Atavar, Elson delievered a vaguely similar-looking variation on Moby Dick, with a script by Nigel Kitching. A.H.A.B., as it was called, worked perfectly well but hasn;t gone down in 2000AD history. Some lovely character designs by Elson, mind.

Fear. Elson is very good at fear.
Words by Dan Abnett
Atavar gets gory for Book III

The evil/obsesed captain from A.H.A.B. linked his soul with a robot / alien exo-suit.

How do you call back to Moby Dick but also stamp your own take on it? Here's how.
Words by Nigel Kitching

Back on Earth, also in the far future, humans are guarded by packs of genetically modified dogs, their DNA spliced with Hollywood actors (OK not really), in the world of Kingdom.** I think by the time Kingdom first appeared people already knew, trusted and liked Elson’s work, but he hadn’t yet had a full-on hit series. I don’t think he, Abnett or Tharg himself knew what a hit Kingdom would be, but it really works. I do think a large part of it is the vibrant colours, the still-uncommon setting of a gritty action thriller in a world marked by verdant greens, deep blue skies, and occasional flourishes of pink and purple.

Words by Dan Abnett

Also, with the Dog-Man Gene Hackman, Elson is regularly able to pull out his signature trick of having characters whip around, quick as a flash, to fight off enemies on all sides. Frantic and frenetic stuff.

Figting the fighty fights.
Words by Dan Abnett

When a character in an Elson strip turns around, you know there's trouble ahead.
Technically, he's breaking some unwritten comics rules,too. Works though, don't it?
Words by Dan Abnett
In a complete change of tack, Elson teamed up with writer Robbie Morrison, and brought out a very new art style to match for the series Marauder. It’s the follow-up to an old Dredd story they’d created together, in which a young boy enrols as a Judge. Marauder shows what happens when the same boy, now a late teen, drops out of the Academy of Law and becomes a vigilante. Elson’s tone here is largely the same as before, but his lines have a scratchier feel. I believe he explained in an interview that he was teaching himself to draw digitally.

In this story, the Judges are most definitely the bad guys (among others)
Words by Robbie Morrison

Thematically, the scratchier style works perfectly. Out of costume, our hero is more vulnerable. In costume, his extra sinister. As far as the story goes, it’s not something that could come back (I don’t imagine), but I wouldn’t mind if it did!
Marauder's vigilante suit is pretty sweet.
Words by Robbie Morrison

Spare a final thought for Go Machine, a 3riller before Tharg had invented the concept.*** It’s about a cyborg who fights other cyborgs with a backdrop of corporate and legal shenanigans. It also shows off various of Elson’s skills: character creation, simple world-building, blood-spattered fights, and human emotion.

Metal fist on fleshy face.
Words by Al Ewing

More on Richard Elson:
A brief profile of his professioanl work, taken from the Birmignham Comic Festival earlier this year.
You can read about his time on Sonic the Comic here.
A very short review of Kingdom from a fan here, notable for the assertion that the series is the best kick in the head since Big Dave..?!

Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd: Word of the Law; Lawcon; The Incident; Ownership
The Scrap
Go Machine
Kingdom (all of it, obvs)

*No offence to Oz, one of the better Dredd Mega epics, but the Judda storyline isn’t in my top 20 Dredd-based moments in Thrill-Power, let alone moments from 2000AD overall.

**As far as I know, there is absolutely no connection between the universes of Atavar and Kingdom. They’re both just futurey post-post-apocalypticy slices of fun.

***Which is to say, it’s a three-part Future Shock designed to show-off the talents of an up-and-coming writer, in this case one Al Ewing.

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