Friday, March 11, 2016

No. 62 Brendan McCarthy

First Prog: 82 (unless his Dredd from the 1979 Annual was commissioned or published first?)
Final Prog: 1784 (strip work) 1958 (cover)

First Meg: 3.33 (or 136 in normal numbers)
Final Meg: 311 (strip work); 329 (cover)

Total appearances: 165
-including his work for Revolver, but not Skin, which was meant to be but didn’t actually get published in Crisis.

Creator Credits:
Sooner or Later; Rogan Gosh; Zaucer of Zilk
Zenith (he designed many of the characters)
ABC Warriors (1 Warrior in particular)

Other art credits:
Judge Dredd
Strontium Dog
Walter the Wobot
various Future Shocks / one offs


Notable character creations:
 Zenith (main character design, and a bunch of supporting characters, too)
The Judda
Steelhorn aka the Mess
Brit-Cit Judges in general, Judge Armour in particular
Oz Judge outfit design (I think?), maybe even the Hondo City Judge outfits, too?

McCarthy during an especially experimental phase.
Colin MacNeil drew the story inside, anyone know who designed the uniform?

Notable characteristics:
Style; fun; characters who are more interested in having a good time than in doing the right thing, deliciously flamboyant colours; pizazz, if that a word anyone still uses;
amazing lettering; chunkiness; a particular sense of fashion

On Brendan:


This is my favourite ever piece of reader art. It just sums up the artist’s approach so neatly. He’s idiosyncratic, he’s heightened, he’s not afraid to just pull everything up at the corners and loosen things up a bit, you know?

It also neatly gets across the fact that although there are and always have been many distinctive artists at the house of Tharg, somehow McCarthy in the late 80s was the mostest distinctivistest. Especially on Dredd. It wasn’t just his take on Dredd, it was his approach to the whole city, and the way he had of drawing rain, and fear, and a general sense that just reading his strips might be enough to engender a classic case of ‘future shock’ (that’s to say, the in-story medical condition that causes people to go mad because they can’t cope with their own contemporary normality).

Frankly, I was scared off. I was super excited by the idea of Brit-Cit when Atlantis was on the cover…

Such vibrant design!

But I couldn’t quite wade through the actual strip (at the time), because the art itself was kind of off-putting.

Actually, this is from 'Riders on the Storm'. But it's scene-setting and scary.
Like, if this was a video, young me would know from the design that it's a 15 or even 18 rated effort.
Words by Wagner & Grant

I was, at that timek, mostly drawn to the likes of Ezquerra, Gibson and Belardinelli. Greats all, and, l.ike McCarthy, utterly idiosyncratic and not like any other comics artist, but they did have on-thing in common not shared by McCarthy: their work is always easy-to-read! The Witness, the Dredd two-parter that began in the legendary Prog 500 was a step too far – but at least that story was actually supposed to be frightening!

So much steam and sweat; the fear oozes off the page.
words by Wagner & Grant
Weirdly enough, Sooner or Later, which ran around the same time, was a comforting read. I mean, the story made very little sense to 8-year-old me, who barely knew what unemployment was, let alone the importance of good grooming. But the art was a burst of wonderful colour and whimsy and evil barbers with insane hairdos. The lettering on the ‘next Prog’ captions was an especial treat.

So much fun with the sound effcts and emanata!
Words by Peter Milligan

It's the Todds! Best hair-based villains ever.

I’m getting ahead of things. I tend to end up being dreadfully chronological in these write ups, and McCarthy had in fact been working for the Prog pretty much since the beginning. A cover here and there, some Walter the Wobot episodes, a bit of pitching in on Dredd, but most notably, a couple of one-offs from the early Annuals and Specials, which proved that he was pretty fully formed right out of the gate. Although I would say that McCarthy's early (and to some extent his later work too) feels very informed by British humour comics, in a way that much of the rest of 2000AD seemed to be striving to be more European or American.

McCarthy is co-credited with Brett Ewins, his long-term chum.

Dredd on his downtime, something we used to see a lot more in the early days.
This story may even have been written by McCarthy; not sure.

This page is right out of the Beano if you ask me.
McCarthy filling in from Carlos Ezquerra on a really early Strontium Dog.
Words by John Wagner
Most terrifying robot EVER.
Words by Pat Mills
Then he was plucked by Mr Mills to tackle a couple of early episodes of ABC Warriors. Including the introduction of cross-dressing as a theme.

Larking around with Happy and Joe.
Words by Pat Mills

I’m sad that he never got to do any more in that series, there’s something about his robots that delightfully fleshy that is rather unlike most other artists. I think he’d be a great fit for a comic about the adventures of the Geminoid lot.* The saddest thing of all is that, having introduced the Mess as a terrifying burning liquid metal robot, he never gets unleashed again.

Some more one-offs followed, including steamy robot action, 

Cracking design for the world's first robot.
Words by Gary Rice

 and of course a well-loved Future Shock with Alan Moore.

Every panel of this strip is a delight.
Words (and no doubt detailed panel descriptions) by Alan Moore

I guess he was kinda busy doing his own thing with Freakwave / Paradax / who knows what, but it’s weird to me that he never got a steady series until he became a Dredd regular in the mid 80s. Maybe he was too off-beat for the publishers at that time? Still, he had a good run on Dredd, a bunch of AMAZING covers, and of course the lunacy of Sooner or Later, the strip that saw him team up in 2000AD for the first extended run of work with long-time friend and collaborator Peter Milligan.

Who doesn't have this cover in their top 10? Anyone?

It’s worth dwelling a bit on Judge Dredd: Oz. The story goes (well, a story I’ve extrapolated from the interview he did on the Thrill Cast) that he spent some time bumming around in Australia, doing a bit of surfing, and he rang up John Wagner and told him a future Australia would be a great setting for a Dredd adventure. Somehow involving both skysurfing around Sydney and also going to Ayers Rock Uluru.

Wagner and Grant responded by setting up two entirely unrelated stories and mashing them together, allowing Chopper to muck about in Australia, drawn by an enormous variety of artists, while McCarthy got to design Morton Judd and his Judda, who terrorises the Judges in MC-1 while coming to a sticky end in Ayers Rock.
The hall of Judd
Words by Wagner & Grant

The Judda stuff ended up setting a major chain of events in motion, ultimately leading to Necropolis and arguably starting a domino topple of continuity that continues to this day (although I suspect it’s not too hard to make an argument that dominoes have been toppling pretty much since the Robot War, or maybe Sov aggression on Luna-1). 

This is how angry Judd gets in a flashback. Think how bad it gets in the present day
after he's turned full megalomaniac!
Words by Wagner & Grant

ANYWAY the Judda sections are slightly incoherent, but they’re stylish as heck. Morton Judd literally froths at the mouth at one point, before spontaneously combusting.

And, pretty shortly thereafter, farewell. A couple more Dredds, some covers, and then goodbye to 2000AD (on the whole), hello to sister publications Crisis and Revolver.

Some occasional updates on his efforts in Hollywood fleshing out Highlander II: the Quickening. Which I have seen and remember nothing about, except that every time I’m reading a back Prog that shows a snippet of McCarthy’s concept art I immediately want to watch it again, even though I know in my head it is a boring film.
Luckily, his other bigSci-Fi film turned out alright in the end! And isn’t it very 2000AD in feel.

Anyway, McCarthy was, for me, the poster-boy of what late 80s grown-up comics meant. They weren’t titillating or sweary or hyper-violent (that last but was already pretty well sewn up by 2000AD anyway). No, they were crazy weird, and revolved around real-world adult concerns such as ‘what’s the point of life?’, ‘running away from conformity’ and ‘how can I have a bit more fun?’.

Grown-up comics = comics about needing money and/or a job.
Words by Peter Milligan
I’m not entirely sure how I got wind of Skin, a Milligan/McMcarthy piece that as supposed to run in Crisis, but it sure piqued my interest. As it ended up being published by Tundra, it doesn’t strictly belong in this blog, but here’s a sample anyway. And yes, it should remind you of ‘This is England’. Only with added thalidomide**.

Note the super-different art style.
Words by Peter Milligan
  Certainly Rogan Gosh, which absolutely does belong on this blog, was the only reason I had any interest in picking up Revolver (which I didn’t at the time). No offense to Milligan, whose words and story are fascinating, but it’s the Brendan McCarthy show all the way. Colour at its most vibrant, and the boredom vs delight dichotomy of the story is made stunningly real by the images. There’s a case to be made for this being one of the most comic-y comics of all time, and it’s one of the closest examples I know of that captures the feeling of reading a poem in comics form – as in, the art itself has poetry about it, not just the words (which are prose anyway).***

A man about to enter a dream sequence
Words by Peter Milligan

A man in the midst of a pseudo-epiphany
Words still by Peter Milligan. He's good at words, isn't he.

And then that really was it for McCarthy and Tharg, aside from checking in with some more gorgeous covers from time to time.



For about 20 years or so.

And then, out of the blue**** came Zaucer of Zilk. One wonders whether McCarthy finally had a free window to draw some more comics, or whether it was in fact a character he’d had in mind for years, waiting only for the right scripting partner to come along. Enter AlEwing, who certainly put his own stamp on the story.

McCarthy's heroes are kind of dicks, no?
Words by Al Ewing.

In a way, Zaucer of Zilk is the most McCarthy story ever. You’ve got an idle, slightly irritated if not angry young man. Who cares about how he looks. Who gets into inter-dimensional shenanigans, and interacts on a meta-textual level with pop-culture references. And doesn’t so much have an adventure, as float from scene to scene, pointedly not learning any lessons.

This page wears its heart ell on its sleeve: our bored hero take a pill
to escape from dull, rainy life into techncolour adventure and glory.
Words by Al Ewing

All lavishly illustrated with oozingly beautiful colours (tip of that hat to Len O’Grady who must have rubbed his head a bit at the challenge of adding colour to an already-coloured McCarthy page of art!).While it didn’t ultimately engage me all the way, it sure brightened the Prog, and I’m always keen to see more of this sort of thing.

McCarthy has been part of the Prog since the very beginning, and remains part of the Prog today - or at least, one hopes he’ll come back. As one of the most visibly innovative and out-there artists of his generation, he stamped a mark on 2000AD pretty much every time his work has been printed. Without nudity or violence, I’d credit him as much as anyone with the shift of 2000AD out of the juvenile division and into the world of comics for everyone.

More on Brendan McCarthy:
His own website
Interview on the Thrillcast
The Strange World of Brendan McCarthy, a now closed blog dedicated to the man himself

Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd: Dr Panic; Atlantis; Witness; Oz; Report to the Chief Judge on the Accidental Death
ABC Warriors: Steelhorn
Sooner or Later
Rogan Gosh
Robo-Tales: Ye Firste Robote


*I happen to be working on a book about robots in my day job at the moment, so I’m up on my robot tech. Geminoids are the super-uncanny-valley androids with fake skin.

**Last Century’s zika virus, only worse because it was man-made and actively pushed onto pregnant women. Brrr.

***Massive digression, but another great example of a comic that functions as a poem is Richard Maguire’s Here. And just maybe some of Steve Ditko’s Dr. Strange, which was for sure an influence on young Brendan.

**** pun absolutely intended for this bluest of comics.

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