Thursday, September 15, 2016

No. 82 Jim Baikie

First Prog: 306
Final Prog: 1309 (but before that, 927)
-and note that he has the curious distinction of being the cover artist for both his first and last Prog. A neat little calling card.

First Meg: 1.01
Final Meg: 1.05

Total appearances: 109
-including run on New Statesmen in Crisis, and double-dipping for the two series of Skizz he wrote as well as drew (which ups his total count quite considerably)

Creator Credits:
New Statesmen


Other art credits:
Judge Dredd
a couple of one-offs

Notable character creations:
Roxy, Loz, Cornelius
-and if I’d read New Statesmen more than once, I bet I could name some of them here, too.

Notable characteristics:
Small but very expressive eyes. Exceptional cartooning, with a great line in subdued exaggeration, to coin an oxymoron. Always conveying a sense of place.

Van Owen, the original piggey-eyed monster.
The 'eccent' is South African, by the way -
remember when go-to bad guys came from apartheid-era South Africa?
Words by Alan Moore

On Jim:
Aside from three series of Skizz, Baikie has never really been a 2000AD mainstay, yet he was an extremely welcome presence for the years he was around. It’s worth noting that he was held in high enough regard to secure work on the launches of two 2000AD spin-offs, Crisis and the Judge Dredd Megazine. Everyone* remembers New Statesmen, usually pretty fondly, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone mention Midnite’s Children, the only official** ‘Judge Dredd’ story that actually ran in the first few issues of the Megazine. 

That there is some hardcore scene setting and character design.
Words by Alan Grant

Now, arguably, it’s not a Dredd epic to set the world on fire, but a) the art is cracking, and b) it’s the one story from that first Megazine that 12-year old me could relax into, as it felt like the sort of strip I knew from the Prog, and that’s all down to the art.

A sitcom character trapped in a phone booth while juve-y mayhem goes on around him.
This is my definition of safe, relaxing Judge Dredd comics...
Words by Alan Grant

Putting it crassly, Jim Baikie has always drawn comics properly – as in, pencilling it out, then inking it, with recognisable characters that have consistent features and haircuts, just cartoony enough to project my own ideas of character onto, but realistic enough that it feels like a step above Tintin and the Beano and that sort of thing. I realize this is a very personal definition of ‘properly’!
Crucially, it’s got that edge of humour to it.

Simple, comic cartooning
Words by Alan Grant

 Even when he’s dealing with an utterly horrible character, such as the blubber-lipped hitman.

Evil as described by lips
Words by John Wagner

Even scarier in colour!

Or Spuggy, the most repellent man in Mega City One. (Thought I had a scan handy, but you'll just have to imagine a hobbity fellow, only instead of a cheery smile he's got piggy eyes, a bulbous head, and looks like he's ogling you).

Instead, here he is jenning up excitement for the finale to Dredd epic Oz:

You'll have to buy this Prog for yourself to find out!
(Or read Judge Dredd: Oz in one of various collected editions)

By the time he delivered his Prog swansong, his tendency to cartoon had really come to the fore. It’s both weird and delightful at the same time.

The art of drawing without drawing. So much still conveyed even without filling in all the details.
Dredd's heroic/matter-of-fact pose is the key detail, of course.
Words by John Wagner

Let’s dip back in time a little bit to New Statesmen again. Just speaking from my own experience, my overwhelming memory is not the actual issues of Crisis (which I have a small selection of), or even the collected edition that I borrowed from a friend about 10 years ago, it’s the bumper ad that ran in 2000AD featuring the opening sequence from Smith and Baikie’s story.

(Swiped from the website of the lucky bastard who owns this original piece of art!)
That is some badass cartooning right there. I mean, the giant, distorted ‘shot through the eye’ head panel is kind of gimmicky, but it is also inherently fun, and is a prime example, to me, of ‘comics drawn properly’. Even the more straightforward drug sniffing panel at the top drew my attention, partly because of the ‘gosh, I didn’t know comics could show people taking drugs’ titillation, but mostly because the storytelling is just so clear. You can see that the girl isn’t doing it recreationally, she’s doing it because in the moment, she needs something to give her a confidence boost, to help her find that winning snarl that obviously powers her through her human interactions. A picture (or sequence of pictures) tells a thousand words, indeed.

A close-up for you of the sequence in question.
Howl of anguish by John Smith

And so to Skizz, without doubt the series for which Baikie is most known to 2000AD fans. I’ve a feeling book I isn’t quite as highly regarded as it once was, perhaps because Alan Moore’s later work on Halo Jones is now an unimpeachable comics classic. But, you know, page for page I wonder if I don’t like Skizz more. Roxy is every bit as relatable as Halo, but she has the benefit of a more consistent supporting cast, and of course Interpreter Zhcchz himself.

Slkiz and Roxanne O'Rourke, two of the most well-thought out character designs in 2000AD.
Also answered: how to draw an alien/kangaroo hybrid that is on the point of being sick.
Words by Alan Moore

The received wisdom on Skizz has always been that it was a deliberate E.T. riff, but set in England, with a girl. Fascinating to learn from Steve MacManus’s book that this is, in fact, not the case. Presumably Moore and MacManus deliberately contrived the overt E.T. link to stave off accusation so plagiarism, and in fact it was coincidence all along! It was certainly written before E.T. was in UK cinemas – the first batch of episodes at least.

Of course, while Skizz does have a very similar overarching plot to E.T, it isn’t much like E.T. at all in tone. The analysis of family life and blue collar realities of 1980s Birmingham owe a fair bit to Baikie’s artwork, and places it in the realm of soap opera rather than boy’s own adventure.

Describing Birmingham visually
-and at the same time, metaphorically.
Words by Alan Moore

A lovely bit of panel layout/design to bring girl's comics into 2000AD
Words by Alan Moore

And then there’s Books II and III, which were all Baikie all the time, with no link to any prune-faced aliens. Sure, neither of these books pack the emotional weight of book I, which really is a 2000AD story that can make you cry. But both have a neat line in problem solving, and under-used genre in 2000AD, I feel (possibly because it’s very difficult to write).

Book II sees Roxy and Skizz trying to concoct a way to save the Earth from destruction by angry Tau-Cetians. Book III, in part, focuses on Skizz’s efforts to escape from a locked room controlled by a logic-based machine. Baikie (the writer) also continues the hint of socio-political analysis, as we join an older Roxy who has moved to Australia, in a sort-of attempt to drop out of mainstream society, fuelled by right-on sentiments. Good for her! Also, Baikie draws a mean kangaroo:

Lovely colour washes
Words by Jim Baikie

Book II has the benefit of more Loz and Cornelius, although by the end of Book III their tropes have perhaps got a little stale. 

Cornelius has grown old with dignity

Book III pushes for out-and-out comedy. I’ll admit to enjoying the super-Brummy robot that bursts out of the VW Beetle, but I wasn’t a fan of the dastardly Tau-Cetians, either the ones driving the Beetle or the ones on Tau-Ceti itself, play-acting at Roman Emperors.

Baikie hails from the Orkney Isles. Perhaps he styled the thick Brummie on display here
after chats with midlander Alan Moore?

A cackling baddie from teh old school.
But you know, the art is consistently glorious throughout, and Baikie pulls off the trick of ageing Roxy in a convincing way – same girl, looks more grown up, still a relatable protagonist.

I’ve no idea why Baikie didn’t do more work for Tharg – perhaps busy elsewhere, or perhaps his method was rather time-consuming, but I’m glad for what we got. Now come on, Tharg, get New Statesmen back into print, along with a complete Skizz!

Yes, Skizz will make you cry as much as E.T. -and this sequence happens in like episode 3!
Words by Alan Moore

More on Jim Baikie:
All too little, sadly.
Here’s a lovely piece about his work on Jinty, aka what he did before 2000AD
A review of Skizz
(sadly it barely mentions Baikie’s art contributions, but then, it is part of a series on Alan Moore)
A review of NewStatesmen

Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd: The Hitman; In the bath; Little Spuggy’s Xmas; Midnite’s Children
Skizz: books I and II
New Statesmen

*Where ‘everyone’ means the people that might stumble onto this blog.

**Go on, let’s have another argument about whether or not ‘America’ is a Judge Dredd story that should have been reprinted in the Complete Case Files. I mean, clearly it is, he’s on the first page and everything, but it’s not that hard to argue that the story is really about Bennet Beeny, or, if you’re writing an essay on the strip and want a tick in the margin, about the Justice System, and especially life in Mega City One.
(Of course, if you’re going to argue along these lines for America’s non-inclusion in the Case Files, you’re going to end up ditching an awful lot of stories)


  1. Great piece, as usual. Although, can I be nitpicky and point out that Meridian in 'New Statesman' is not doing drugs, but has in fact just teleported the bullet into her hand (I may be wrong).

  2. You're so right! I've always utterly failed to understand that sequence before. Or perhaps I've read too much Brigand Doom, with it's definitive capsule-sniffing antihero.

    Catching the sniper's bullet - suddenly it makes a lot more sense. Many thanks, Aaron!

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