Saturday, May 21, 2016

No. 69 Simon Coleby

First Prog: 647
Latest Prog: 1948

First Meg: 3.66 (aka 170)
Latest Meg: 230

Total appearances: 126
-including the ‘Funeral for a Friend’ poster strip bagged with a Megazine one time.
but not including the IDW Judge Dredd: Year 1 series (although it’s worth noting that’s the best thing yet to come from the IDW Dredd-iverse).

Embracing the trope of Dredd as proper bastard
Words by Garth Ennis
 Creator Credits:
Bato Loco

Other art credits:
Universal Soldier
Judge Dredd
Rogue Trooper (both versions)
Venus Bluegenes
The Simping Detective
Low Life

Notable character creations:
Bato Loco
Rafaella Blue (I think he drew her first?)
Atalia Jaegir

Notable characteristics:
Characters of glorious ugliness. Sideways slanty mouths. Action that draw the reader across the page. There’s surely a better word for it, but his current style brings to mind the word ‘gnarly’.
Oh, and having a super-recognisable somewhat plasticy old style:

Well-defined lines, straight up cartooning

Followed by a years-later, recognisable but super-different grizzly style:
Moodier, darker, more morally ambiguous.

On Simon:
Simon Coleby has proved the longest-serving of a great wave of Simons* who joined 2000AD in the late 80s / early 90s. He’s also undergone perhaps the most radical re-invention of the all. Basically, there’s early Simon Coleby, who is chunky and garish and angular and action packed (and a ton of fun). And mostly in full colour.

A very simple face design that conveys all you need to know about this dude right here.
Words by Alan McKenzie
Then there’s contemporary Simon Coleby, who’s equally action-packed, but also super-detailed, scary, moody, and kind of amazing. And mostly in black and white.

The new style - requires 150% more ink. This time, character is conveyed in clothing and body language as well as the faces.
Words by Rob Williams
(Arguably not quite as big a shift as his contemporary Carl Critchlow, but that’s mostly because Critchlow started out painting, so it’s much more obvious how different it is. Still Coleby’s new stuff has a whole different bag of tricks from his old stuff.)

It’s not fair to speak ill of an artist in their early days, but I will say that I found something about Coleby’s early stuff, along the lines that it felt like I might just be able to draw like him. Not to say that he wasn’t a good draughtsman, but I found his style unintimidating; his storytelling very straightforward. This is probably most apparent in his very first story, Universal Soldier II. Where the first book by Will Simpson was rain-soaked, a bit grimy and sometimes tough to follow, Coleby’s Book II was refreshingly easy. In all honesty, I hadn’t a clue about the back story when I first read it, but taken on its own as a sort of post-Robin Hood pre-Braveheart war story, it was jolly fun.

Check out how everything slopes a little bit down and to the right. Basic dynamism, or a wonky desk?
Words by Alan McKenzie
Coleby started pushing the boat out when he moved to Dredd and FrIday-era Rogue Trooper. He started pulling faces this way and that, unafraid to embrace the old cartoonist standby of exaggeration. If it sometimes erred too far into silly, so be it. I mean, what else do you do when the story calls for a character with a detachable jaw big enough to swallow a fat man whole?

That is a bold head:helmet ratio right there.
Words by Garth Ennis
Actually, what really stuck out to me as a young reader were Coleby’s faces. Particularly the mouths. Even more particularly, the constant downward slope.

Down and to the right...
Words by Michael Fleisher
Even the punches go down and to the right.
Words by Michael Fleisher

You could also argue a case for Coleby following contemporary fashions for mega-muscled body-builder types, along with endless spraying bullets. Coupled with grimaces. Certainly Dredd at the time was falling into this pattern. Coleby I think fit the bill well, not least with his facility for drawing moronic cits (and arguably a few not-too-smart bureaucrats, too).

So many bullet cartridges! More sloping foreheads!
Words by Michael Fleisher
 This style served Coleby well enough for a few years, reaching its apex with a short stint on Venus Bluegenes.

The gnarliness is creeping in. Also, giant lips.
Words by Dan Abnett
Who you callin' fish lips, lady?
Words by Dan Abnett
Rogue Trooper: cool, original flavour.
And then nothing for around six years (perhaps a victim of the Bishop cull?) – before he exploded back into view working with Gordon Rennie (a choice made by both? Or perhaps a canny editor who saw a neat fit). His work on the back to basics Rogue Trooper series was a revelation of monochrome glory. Deliriously craggy villains, a Rogue that managed to be both muscley and lithe at the some time – that’s a clever trick right there.

You want an angry bad guy face? I'll give you an angry bad guy face!!
Words by Gordon Rennie
And then just casually introducing Rafaella Blue, a character who would go on to have her own series.

Chunky guns, thick-soled boots, massive zip - yup, this girl's ready for a career in 2000AD.
Words by Gordon Rennie
Over in the Meg, and still with Rennie for much of it, Coleby made a return to the world of Dredd. Sticking with the new style, it’s perfectly made to capture old, grizzled Dredd. Something about the way Coleby adds in shadows and wrinkles everywhere. It’s not that his Dredd is super-aged looking (as some artists have it), more that everything about him, from chin to boots, is gnarled.

Grizzled, chiselled and gnarled all in one.
Words by Gordon Rennie (I think)
Just a deliriously fun angle to highlight a comedy chase.
Words definitely by Gordon Rennie
Most memorably was Bato Loco, a comedy foil who also went on to have his own very occasional solo outings. Now, there are of course some eyebrows to be raised at the very idea of ethnic stereotyping in this kind of character (I think he’s theoretically Puerto Rican, but at this point in MC1 history, you’ve got to wonder if there’s a steady supply of new immigrants or if it’s just a community that makes a point of latching onto old accents).

BUT Rennie I think knew what he was doing. He’s working in a Wagner/Grant tradition of equal opportunities laughing at everyone, and in fact bringing some diversity of character in. Above all, Bato Loco as a story is a comedy effort, with the hero’s own attitude (and idiocy) being the point, coupled with absurdly convoluted plot machinations not some suggestion that this is in fact endemic to all Puerto Rican New Yorkers or what have you. I hope.
Coleby, of course, was along for the ride of drawing pictures to sell the character and his womanizing ways, which he does very adeptly.

On to Malone, in which a man with a past attempts to rescue a troubled waif but is haunted by visions of an especially terrifying clown. We all know what it means now, sure, but at the time it was pretty odd. It read like a standard noir story, but the clown, and indeed a heightened atmosphere added by Coleby, gave it something of the horror. It all clicked together especially well.

Tharg's second go-around at the 'scary clown' subgenre. More please!
Words by Dan Abnett

Coleby next clicked well with Rob Williams on Low Life. I’m not sure if it was either man’s intention or desire, but as a pair they moved the strip from a serious action story that investigated doubt into a comedy action story that investigated the depths of weirdness of MC-1, with unusual characters being the order of the day – characters that dominate the plot, to be frank (pun intended, I guess).

Good comics is all about the characters, yes?
Words by Rob Williams

Babies that actually look like babies! Not often as well-handled as Coleby manages here.
Words by Rob Willaims
Crucially, all these outings were in black and white. It’s a good fit for Coleby, but something about his heavily inked style can occasionally make the foreground and background blend together, losing a modicum of clarity. I don’t think this was a direct cause, but since then we’ve seen first the odd splash of colour in Simping Detective

Who is that red-headed lady? Why, it's former Judge Galen DeMarco
Words by Si Spurrier
and then full-on mood-enhancing cover on Jaegir, Coleby’s fourth outing into the world of Rogue Trooper (which I guess makes him the artistic curator of that Universe at this point).

There's not much colour in Jaegir, but it makes a difference
Words by Gordon Rennie
Jaegir is inhabited by monsters of all stripes, both physically and emotionally. That gnarliness is front and centre. Coleby does an especially standout job on showing the characters’ inner turmoil.

The eyes, the wrinkles, the posture - it all speaks to a haunted past.
Words by Gordon Rennie
Comedy and Tragedy, Action and Emotion - he makes it look easy!

More on Simon Coleby:
An IDW-hosted interview mostly about his IDW Dredd

iFanboy has a piece, opening with the question of whether this 25-year career artist counts as an upstart…

Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd: School Bully; The Flabfighters; My beautiful career
Universal SoldierII
Friday: I retain a soft spot for the Saharan Ice Belt war.
Rogue Trooper: all Coleby’s episodes in the Rennie series were spectacular
Malone: probably my all-time fave of Coleby’s work.
Bato Loco: always a treat
Low Life: Rock and a Hard Place
Jaegir: I’m not 100% on board with this series, but the art is stellar.

*Harrison; Bisley; Jacob, Davis, and, a little later, Fraser. And perhaps the mysterious SMS. (Not to mention writers Geller, Furman, Spencer and Spurrier)

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant piece, Alex. SMS is a Sebastian - Sebastian Melmouth, no less.