Saturday, September 24, 2016

No. 84 Steve Parkhouse

First Prog: 580
Latest Prog: 1470

Total appearances: 106
-with double points for writing and drawing, although he has generally done or the other one rather than both at once

Creator Credits:
Moon Runners (as co-writer)
Happenstance & Kismet (as artist)
Kola Kommandoes (as writer)
Big Dave (as artist)
Tiger Sun, Dragon Moon (writer and artist)

Gearing up for action!
Words and pictures by Steve Parkhouse

Other art credits:
Judge Dredd
The Journal of Luke Kirby
Slaine (in a Yearbook once)
Sinister Dexter
A handful of one-offs

Slaine + Ukko funnies
Words by Pat Mills

Other writing credits:
Ro-Jaws Robo-Tales

Notable Character Creations:
Big Dave

Design + art by Parkhouse and Rian Hughes

Notable characteristics:
Broad caricatures, big noses, fuzzy hair / moustaches; on his colour work, some lush painterly textures that offset the cartooning. I’m struggling to pick up on particular writing tricks, beyond the same ‘broad caricatures’ motif.

On Steve:
One of a very rare breed of true comics all-rounders, who has worked for Tharg extensively as a writer and as artist, only once doing both. Yet for some reason, I suspect most 2000AD readers would instinctively think of him as an artist first and foremost. He certainly has a very distinctive art style that is, to me, much more in tune with traditional British humour comics along the lines of the Beano and Viz - certainly why he was ideally suited to draw Big Dave.

Whereas his writing style is a little more chameleonic. If there’s anything that sticks out, it’s perhaps his commitment to writing episodically. Which is to say, making sure that each 5/6 page episode is satisfying in its own right, rather than being merely part of an ongoing story. Something of a lost/abandoned art in comics generally.

Just to make a point, let’s take a trip through his work in chronological order, so we can see quite how well he has flitted between the two disciplines.

1. Writer: on a single Ro-Jaws RoboTale in the 1982 Annual, which I no longer have and cannot recall!

2. Artist: stepping in to complete the final two episodes of Judge Dredd: Full Mental Jacket, which Ian Gibson didn’t complete for who knows what reason. Parkhouse’s work here sticks out as not being his usual fluid cartoony stuff, which I suspect is because he was trying to ape an imagined house-style for Dredd. Of course, there never really has been such a thing, but I do see elements of Cam Kennedy in Parkhouse’s work here, and he’s as definitive as it got on mid-1980s Judge Dredd.

art duties shared with Brendan McCarthy; both attempting to keep an Ian Gibson flavour
Words by John Wagner

This is all Parkhouse (I think), and has something of the Kennedy about it.
It's also a devastating and brutal sequence!

3. Writer: helping Alan McKenzie with the script (and maybe the plot + general character creation?) on Moon Runners. I feel as if I’ve read somewhere, likely on his own website, that McKenzie specially called on his friend Parkhouse for help. Parkhouse was at this point already a seasoned comic pro, while McKenzie, rightly, felt that he hadn’t really learned the comics scripting ropes as yet.

With all due respect to the creators, Moon Runners didn’t work. There’s a lot of good in the intention (Dallas meets Smokey & the Bandit…IN SPACE!), the settings and the characters were well realised, as you’d expect from Belardinelli, but the soap operatic plotting, and a fair bit of the dialogue, were poor.

4. Artist: stepping as far away from space opera as possible with Happenstance and Kismet, a comedy serial that ran in Revolver – and, sad to say, was hands own the worst thing in it. Not really for the art, though. It’s something of a period piece, evoking the likes of Miss Marple or Jeeves and Wooster, and drawn in a style that Parkhouse fans may know from The Bojeffries Saga. Nice to look at, the slapstick is expertly carried off, but it’s not much fun to read.

Lovely bit of scene setting, just don't ask me what they're on about.
Words by Paul Neary

Classic British slapstick
Words by Paul Neary

5. Writer: Kola Kommandoes. As I think I may have said before, this is something of a noble failure, with a wonderful opening episode, a handful of great puns, some neat characters, and, unfortunately, ends up a hot mess. I can imagine Parkhouse would have done a neat job on the illustration side, and I’d be curious to know why he didn’t do that as well – although Anthony Williams, an artist not a million miles away in style, did a creditable job.

Satire from the Third World War school of subtlety
Art by Anthony Williams
As the writer, it’s perhaps easier in this strip to tease out some personal themes for Parkhouse. The story is largely focussed on downtrodden uber-white guy lead Hector Doldrum. It also features a duo of (also very white) inept vigilantes. Alongside them are two hyper-competent characters: a young asian girl and a sort of genetically engineered super soldier, with blue skin and white hair (but otherwise, no connection to Rogue Trooper). Meanwhile, there’s an evil corporation to fight against. So there’s something going on in there to do with the push not to be ordinary, and to assume that anyone with too much power is not to be trusted. It is also playful and a deliberate comedy, quite a rare thing the themes, but I’m not entirely sure I want to.

This thesis is, of course, actually true.
Art by Anthony Williams

Out of context, this could be a very sinister ending to a light-hearted tale...
Art by Anthony Williams

6. Artist, and this time for a long, sustained period, covering two big jobs: Big Dave, and Luke Kirby. And it’s during this period that Parkhouse really shines. Say what you like about Big Dave (and I have), it’s well drawn. Parkhouse especially lays on the grime and sleaze with a trowel, making all his characters ugly and stupid, but also with distinct personalities.

Remember when it was OK to make jokes about Princess Diana?
Words by Morrison & Millar

Caught up in the chaos; just a delightful panel in itself, really

Now this might actually be a clever bit of satire. Or it might just be offensive. I CAN'T TELL!
Words by Morrison and Millar

His work on Luke Kirby might well be his best for pure art alone. At first, I’ll admit it jarred quite a bit as it’s very different from John Ridgway, and I never warmed to his Luke in the way I did to Ridgway’s version. But I would say both artists aim for a very-relevant feeling of the past; Ridgway’s version of the 1950s/60s puts me in mind of Enid Blyton, while Parkhouse is more classic era Dandy/Beano.

Luke is in a spot of bother.
Yelp by Alan McKenzie

If there’s a hidden thematic concern to Luke Kirby, it’s the countryside. Our boy is always going for walks in the woods or meadows with older men, caught in that pull of wanting to grow up fast, but also enjoying how slow long school holidays can feel. Parkhouse, like Ridgway before him, keeps that focus clear.

Luke encounters lurking dangers in the countryside.
Note also Parkhouse's luscious lettering at work
Words by Alan McKenzie

Parkhouse’s first Kirby story involves meeting the devil. Unlike the gas mask fetish fiend of Cannon Fodder (a strip that ran around the same time), here we get a Lucifer of the more subtle variety – an obviously nasty piece of work, but with just enough cool to lure you in.

7. There followed a good few years with no Parkhouse, before he delivered a handful of Dredds, some Future Shocks and the obligatory Sinister Dexter. No themes here, just good old fashioned fun, and old hand showing off, as it were. No warning at all, then for the strip that has proved to be the man’s swansong for Tharg:

A delightfully chaotic shootout
Context by John Wagner

Joking around with Sinister and Dexter
Words by Dan Abnett

8. Writer and artist on Tiger Sun Dragon Moon. And I’d say it’s definitely his best work for the Prog, too. Once I got over the fact that the title was such a direct lift from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon*, I got into it. (Also ignoring the minor distraction that while the film is all about ancient China, this tale is set in future Japan. Sort of.) It’s super dynamic, as often as not an exercise in fight choreography, comics style. You could argue that films do fights better than any other medium, but comics has a place in the conversation for sure, specifically because it allows you to observe discrete moments, a punch here, a kick there, a messy stab wound or so.

There's a LOT of blood in this strip

Plenty of dismemberment, too

And a touch of flesh

The story, set in the world of Dredd but not really much to do with it, is fairly simple but in a good way. You root for the hero, you get to understand her emotional path, and you look forward to the ass-kicking.

You don't mess with Sukonami!
An elegant end to an eclectic Thargian career!

More on Steve Parkhouse:
A potted (very potted) bio on Alcehtron
Here’s very old interview on Sequential Tart, mostly about Angel Fire, Parkhouse’s collaboration with Chris Blythe
And if you’re wondering what he’s doing now, here it is, Resident Alien, a collaboration with fellow 2000AD alum Peter Hogan

Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd: Full Metal Jacket; Dinner at Shapiro's
Big Dave: I’ve never really got on board with the story, but Parkhourse’s art is one thing is got unequivocally right
Journal of Luke Kirby: Old Straight Track
Tiger Sun, Dragon Moon

*Lest we forget, an absolutely monster mainstream success that dominated the media landscape in 2001.


  1. Hi AlexF - you have helped me to locate a picture (the kelpie from luke kirby) which I have been searching for for around 10 years! That strip terrified me and fascinated me as a kid, i've been googling and asking on 2000ad forums etc for years trying to find it! Can you tell me which Prog that strip is in please? I'd like to buy it but don't know which one it's in! Thank you so much!

  2. Glad to be of service! There's nothing like solving a 'which comic was that panel from?' mystery.
    It's from 'The Journal of Luke Kirby: the Old Straight Track', which ran from Progs 954-963. That specific panel is in Prog 955 -
    but if you're feeling flush, you could purchase the collected edition of the entire Luke Kirby saga, which Rebellion is putting out in May.