Saturday, October 1, 2016

No. 85 Siku

First Prog: 928
Latest Prog: 1682 (on the cover); 1372 (interior strip)

First Meg: 2.11 (or 31 in normal numbers)
Latest Meg: 359 (on the cover); 3.44 on interior strip (or 148 in normal numbers)

Total appearances: 106
-and he showed up on a Meg cover not too long ago, so you never know if we might get more of his made paint swirls and gigantic chins.

That's what I call In your face art
Words by John Wagner
Creator Credits:
Pan African Judges


Other art credits:
Judge Anderson
Judge Hershey
Judge Dredd
Harlem Heroes
Sinister Dexter
Witch World (which he actually drew the first few episodes of)
Tales of Telguuth
A handful of one-offs

Notable character creations:
Becky Steel (who for whatever reason I remember more than Assengai, the Judge Dredd analogue from the same series)

Notable characteristics:
Biggest. Chins. Ever. Lots of paint everywhere. Both minimalist and hyper lavish at the same time. Gleaming muscles, not always within human proportions. In fact, exaggeration generally is a pretty key sign of Siku at work. Comical juxtaposition of people and place. Tasteful nudity. (there's a reason he was tapped for both the Femmes Fatales supplement and the Sex prog)

Also tasteful skull-based decor
Words by Steve Moore

On Siku:
Siku is, for me, the poster child of the David Bishop era. A very distinctive artist , not I think universally adored, but one who very visibly got better with each assignment before growing into a signature style.

Siku (real name Ajibayo Akinsiku) got his first work on the Megazine under the said David Bishop, filling in (I guess?) between bouts of Arthur Ranson on Judge Anderson, which is about a tough an opening gig as anyone can ask.

Leanring how to paint
Words by Alan Grant
He improved massively over the course of his next few jobs (including some Hershey stuff that sadly I can't get my hands on). But I’d say his work was still somewhat outside of the norm, and not necessarily my cup of tea. But Bishop stuck with him, gave him the chance to develop, try some different strips and let the man’s own style breathe.

Having fun with shiny paint and human flesh
Word by Chris Standley
By the time Bishop brought him over to 2000AD, Siku was the real deal, a distinctive, competent and compelling art droid. A talent spotted, nurtured and let loose! With a pretty big undercurrent of ‘not everyone’s cup of tea’.

Not least because Bishop deliberately brought him in the sex up Kev Hopgood’s classic work on Harlem Heroes: Cyborg Death Trip.*

The blue lighting effect is way more sophisticated than this story deserved
Words by Michael Fleisher

Descending into total lunacy
Backing up a little, let's talk about Pan-African Judges, where the signature Siku style was first cemented. A style that was all about the bulging, gleaming musculature. And I can’t deny that there’s something compelling about this. It’s unafraid to bask in the majesty of the human body, even if it’s a human body no actual human has necessarily ever had. Expressionism, what.

So shiny; so evocative; so glorious
Words by Paul Cornell

Muscles aside, I feel I really ought to get into the story of this rather odd, unloved series. Except I haven’t re-read it in quite a while. The first series, written by Paul Cornell (but definitely with input from Siku) was specifically told from the point of view of Becky Steel (younger sister of Treasure from Armitage), a black British Judge who transfer to Pan-Africa, a not terribly well defined location within an equally not especially defined concept, or so it came across to me.

Main points of note: the series was, I think, a deliberate attempt to push away from the rather silly world of Judge Dredd: Book of the Dead, a story that suggested 22nd Century Egypt would be all about the pyramids and ancient gods, and not a muslim country. So Pan African Judges gets a future Islamic perspective in, as well it should.

Becky 'antenna-hair' Steel betrays a typically British misunderstanding about Islam.
Words by Paul Cornell
Being ‘Pan-Africa’, it also makes a point of getting in a selection of people from across the geographical as well as political spectrum of present-day Africa (sort of), meaning we get a north African (the muslim), a South African (a white sort-of racist) and a Masai Mara (the notional hero, certainly the noble one of the group). And we got a story about poaching, maybe? It all the unfortunate air of being a bit editorially mandated and worthy, although actually it was perfectly fine. 

Pan-African Judges doesn't skimp on the ultra-violence
Words by Paul Cornell

Like its contemporaries, one could argue that the strip suffered a little from being among the first published work of its creators, who would both go on to get MUCH better at that tricksy mistress, storytelling.**

Book II, the one Siku wrote himself (with help from his brother, I believe), was WEIRD. I think it explored religion in a fairly broad way, with a story nominally about ancient African gods (couldn’t tell you more specifically then that I’m ashamed to say) causing havoc and engendering existential crises in our heroes. And an excuse for more writhing naked torsos in the noonday sun. 

(Actually, this panel might also be from series 1)

Bulging muscles, bulging veins
Overall, it kind of exemplifies the Bishop era for me. Experimental, pretentious, thought-provoking, gorgeously painted, and almost entirely impenetrable.

The futility of fighting a god
Words by Siku

This is, believe it or not, the end. What did it mean?
Words by Siku

By the time Siku delivered his first few Dredds, his style was more like a cartoon version of enormous men with big chins – and all the more fun for that. 

The biggest of chins. Bonus points also for another amazing future hair style.
Words by John Smith

I think it’s fair to say Siku's storytelling instincts were much improved, although he maintained an emphasis on atmosphere across some of the biggest ever double-page spreads to grace either Prog or Meg (big pages in those days, I’m telling you!). There’s a lot of paint (sadly, not all of it terribly well printed back in the day). The Dredd story Fetish, in particular, suffered from a lack of clarity – but in fact, it’s sumptuous stuff. You can taste the wickedness and bloodlust in the evil witch doctor’s heart, you can feel the cloying fear of Judges in Mega City 1 under assault from some supernatural goings-on,


and then sweat it out in Africa with Dredd and Devlin as they ride to the rescue in that rather hilarious on-of-context motor car.


Personally, I first found the joy of Siku’s work with a pair of Bill Clinton stories a little later. Of all things. It’s John Wagner producing some of his most ridiculous (in a good way) writing, and it was matched outrageously well to Siku’s way with painting and cartooning.

A body swap comedy, Judge Dredd style
Words by John Wagner

Siku takes a swipe at his much-loved contemporaries Simon Bisley and Colin MacNeil
Words by John Wagner

 Over in 2000AD, this attitude translated to the likes of Witch World, with its ominous towers and weird priests and impossible architecture,

Witch World had a lot going for it in terms of basic spookiness
Words by Gordon Rennie

over into Slaine, at last back in ancient Ireland,

Challenging McMahon himself for full on cubism
Words by Pat Mills

And, later in the same story, a more classic style
Words by Pat Mills
 and of course on Telguuth, the world that can be anything its artist dream up, as long as it involves tricked-out wizards, viziers and soldiers of fortune, who practically beg to have the bizarre hairstyles and fashion accoutrements that Siku dreams up.

Colours and textures abound in Telguuth
Of course, Siku isn’t just a painter. He’s actually delivered quite a bit in a more traditional comics-looking vein, where his hyper-stylized view of the world gets to shine even brighter.

As seen in the odd section from Fetish, where (in the Bisley-vein), he opts to show his pencils beneath some paint, and they’re super cartoony and fun, too.

Cracking pencils there, eh? Wonder why we didn't get to see this sort of thing more?
Words by John Smith

Witness the same style but now with inks and colours on Sinister Dexter.

Words by Dan Abnett

A mix of cartooning and textured paints, but it works.
Words by Dan Abnett

He’s seemed pretty at ease switching between the two styles, I guess as the story / his time / his mood takes him. He kind of  dropped off the Prog radar over a decade ago, although he’s delivered a handful of covers since then in a somewhat newer style, which I’m guessing reflects his contemporary work on the Manga Bible, one of those super-ambitious projects that can grab comics artists.**

I’ll end with a smattering of covers, showing both his evolution and his ability to really mix it up.




I've no idea what techniques he used to get this atypical effect, but it's bloody good.

A more recent vintage

More on Siku:
His own wesbite
A recentish interview on Sparkol about his work on the Manga Bible and Manga Jesus
Of course, Covers uncovered

Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd: Fetish, The Strange case of Bill Clinton; When the el breaks; Shakespeare at War
Sinister Dexter: The Mating Game; Dressed to Kill
Slaine: The Swan Children
Tales of Telguuth: all his efforts had stonkingly weird art
Rapid Growth

Different style, still massively in your face

*Part of me wonders if Siku, on his own as both writer and artist, might actually be a good fit for the re-imagined Harlem Heroes. There’s a lot in there about machismo and muscles, which are pretty big themes in Pan-African Judges.

**I don't think I'm going to get to Paul Cornell, co-creator of Pan African Judges, on this blog (or at least not for a really long time). So a small aside here to remind readers that his Thargain swansong, XTNCT, is bloody good. The stuff he's done since, for Doctor Who, Marvel and DC, has been uniformly excellent. 

***See also Jeff Anderson, another 2000AD alumnus who has also produced a graphic Bible. If we wait long enough, perhaps we’ll get the Kevin O’Neill version one day..!

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