Tuesday, May 10, 2016

No. 68 Carl Critchlow

First Prog: 700
Latest Prog: 1856 (cover); 1844 (strip art)

First Meg: 2.63 (aka 83)
Latest Meg: 238

Total appearances: 128
-including a small count for Thrud the Barbarian, part reprinted in the Megazine and which has a full episode available to read on Barney

Creator Credits:
Lobster Random

That is some pectoral workout
on Mean Angel right there.
Other art credits:
Nemesis & Deadlock
Mean Machine
Judge Dredd
Batman/Judge Dredd
Tales of Telguuth (and a single Future Shock)

Notable character creations:
Lobster Random
Son of Mean Machine
Judge Sinfield

Notable characteristics:
Cragginess (in his line, not his personality, I’m sure!). Grimaces. Swirly smoke. A willingness to tackle pretty much anything a writer throws at him. Comedy faces.

Perhaps more than any other long-serving artist, having an old style (fully painted) and a new style (pen and ink cartooning)*. 

It's a metaphorical metamorphosis
Context by John Wagner

On Carl:
There’s no getting away from the two distinct eras of Carl Critchlow art. He entered the scene as a painter, suffering as much as any 2000AD droid from printing issues during the much-mocked ‘brown period’. (To the extent that perhaps it was his own decision to go for super-bright tones on Son of Mean Machine and Batman/Dredd.)

Critchlow Stage 1
Context by Pat Mills

A very brief mid-period took in a couple of memorable episodes of Tales of Telguuth.

Critchlow Stage 2
Words by Steve Moore
Before Critchlow delivered his current signature style on a bunch of Dredds, and his major new creation for 2000AD, Lobster Random.

Critchlow Stage 3
Words by John Wagner
 I don’t have a full sense of the timescales involved, but I can well believe that this cartoony style was in fact Critchlow’s default setting.** The painted work was purely a result of the fashion of the time. Yes, a post-Bisley fashion.

Anyway, back to the beginning! Critchlow got his first work with Pat Mills, a privilege and a challenge in equal measure. Nemesis & Deadlock required a deft tonal balance of occult styling mixed with straight up comedy. A painted Nemesis inherently meant losing some of the delightful detail that was so prominent on the original incarnation of the character. On the other hand, concocting a cast of colourful murder suspects was something Critchlow made look easy.

Which one of these seven faces could hide guilt? WHICH ONE??!!
Words by Pat Mills

And speaking of privilege, it’s pretty big deal that he was tapped to bring Flesh back to the Prog. A story I knew only in passing from reprints at the time, it remains perhaps the most fondly remembered original strips (from those readers who have been here since Prog 1, that is1). There’s the inherent hook of Cowboys vs Dinosaurs, coupled with the promise of gaping teeth and gory death. So when the story came back to the Prog, it was going to be something special, right?

The murkiness here is only partly my fault! That damn brown period.
Words by Pat Mills

Legend of Shamanna didn’t do Critchlow any favours. Frankly, it’s a weird story. Sure, there’s the fun central idea of a human raised to be a dinosaur, but ditching the cowboy angle meant the strip lost its weekly sense of fun. That said, my favourite parts of Critchlow’s work here were the panels showing campy/beefy construction worker-types wielding massive chainsaws. And then getting chomped, of course. His sneering suits and caring scientists provided some laughs, too.

Happy jolly slaughterhouse staff. Light relief in Flesh III
Context by Pat Mills, but the pink vest is surely Critchlow's own choice

And he certainly delivered on the massive teeth and gory deaths.

Like other comics in the 1990s, 2000AD was not averse to a little saliva strand action.
At least here it's appropriate!

But you could sort of tell, both here and on Son of Mean Machine, that Critchlow wasn’t entirely comfortable with the style he was presumably mandated into. There’s some fantastic detail, and you can see the cartooning he would become known for fighting to break out from beneath the paint with the exaggerated expressions. But I for one would love to see both stories re-done in his current style…

For me, a refinement in style began with Judge Dredd/Batman: the Ultimate Riddle

That's one way to make room for a massive chunky logo I guess

Bizarre cover design aside, there’s some fun on the inside, and his Dredd here is the most granite-hewn the big chin has ever been. Critchlow isn’t an old man (although hopefully he will be one day!), but he certainly has a facility for rendering them. 

Delightful dichotomy
Words by Wagner & Grant

I’m surprised he hasn’t done more Dredd – it seems like he’s a regular Dredd artist but in fact he’s not produced all that many – it’s just that what he has worked on has been suitably memorable, from a revisit to the wolf judges of the Undercity to Mandroid II. And yes, this is where new-look Critchlow kicks in.

Dredd's face has the same texture as the concrete walls.
Words by John Wagner

More expert geriatric renderings coupled with comedy robots
Words by John Wagner

Splendid stuff! Almost instantly a reliable Dredd-drawer, Critchlow was then tapped to introduce Deputy Sinfield, later to become a uniquely malevolent Dredd villain. And, in perhaps the ultimate test, he had the job of tying together the epic of Trifecta. Obviously he was doing his own thing, but to an extent his task was to synthesize the work of Henry Flint, Simon Coleby and D’Israeli. Oh, and draw a city-sized spacecraft crash landing on Earth. Amazing.

But I think its safe to say that for most readers, Critchlow’s name remains synonymous with his (to date) only series creation, Lobster Random. The inherent nature of the character and the ultra-convoluted plotting marks this as Spurrier’s idea, but Critchlow sure did bring it to life.

The red, blue, orange colour scheme sets the tone perfectly.

 The man can basically draw anything the story throws at him. I mean, crotchety dude with scaled-up lobster claws coming out of his torso is challenge enough. As is depicting him in various states of salacious congress with robot-y companions. And then there's the cast of villains who dog our hero at every turn, often with explodey violence. Dude with a dinosaur sticking out of his head? A whole, life-sized dinosaur? No problem - not when you've already drawn a mass of camera-eyed alien goop, and a trip to the psychosphere...

Random gets stuck in, tooth and claw
Words by Si Spurrier

The Zaparazzi! In Critchlow's imaginative hands, it's like something out of Screaming Mad George...
Words by Si Spurrier

I haven't been giving Critchlow enough credit for his wild colour schemes
Words by Si Spurrier

In the end, it’s Random’s expressions that make the story fun. He’s crabby by default, but also excitable, irascible, mean-tempered, rolly-eyed and, on occasion, delighted by a challenge. Even if said challenge involves torturing the untorturable.

Not too many 2000AD characters get to fall in love.
Words by Si Spurrier
One final expression: resignation
Words by Si Spurrier
Now why hasn’t he been in the Prog lately, that’s what I want to know. Too busy drawing Magic cards

More on Carl Critchlow:
His own website
Returning to the world of Flesh on Covers Uncovered
An interview on Amazing Stories

Nemesis vs Deadlock: wait, arent they supposed tobe the same person, somehow?
Words by Pat Mills

Personal favourites:
Nemesis & Deadlock: The Enigmass Variations (what can I say, I love mysteries, and it was a formative time for me as a reader…)
Judge Dredd: Out of the Undercity; Backlash; Trifecta; Scavengers
Tales of Telguuth: (both his episodes)
Lobster Random (artwise, all of it!)

*With the possible exception of the very next hero to feature on the countdown…

**Certainly judging by his work on Thrud the Barbarian, which is highly recommended

1 comment:

  1. Can't bring myself to think that the murky Nemesis and Deadlock story is his early-period. To me that honour belongs to his White Dwarf Thrud pages - his painted stuff is mid and his modern style is latter.