Wednesday, March 11, 2015

No. 2 Tom Frame

First Prog: 4
Final Prog: 1488
First Meg: 1
Final Meg: 246

Total appearances: at least 2000

Far-famed website and 2000 AD fact resource centre Barney runs this statement on its page for lettering droid Tom Frame:

“Tom Frame has worked on more 2000 AD stories than any other creator with his first work published in Prog 4. He will be sorely missed.”

I don’t have the hard data to confirm or deny the first sentence, and because of the second I wouldn’t want to. Suffice it to say that Frame lettered at least one strip in most Progs from number 4 to number 1488, working into his final days. And this is not to mention every special, spin-off comic, annual, and (again, likely) most issues of the Megazine up to issue 246. That’s as solid a work rate as anyone could have mustered, and puts him up there with Wagner in terms of individual contributions across the whole Thargian print empire. It might even push his total higher.

On Tom
For me, and I expect most readers, Frame’s style is indelibly linked to Judge Dredd, the strip he made his own (as letterer) for nigh on 30 years. I suspect he has supplied more episodes in a row than Mr Wagner himself, helping the strip look good even when the writer of the day perhaps wasn’t supplying top-end material to work with…

Comics fans come to recognize an artist’s style relatively easily; recognizing a letterer is the realm of the uber-fan. But Tom Frame was an exception – one of the few letterers whose work casual 2000 AD fans could, I believe, pick out at a glance – and not because it looked weird, because it looked right. I can think of no greater compliment to his immaculate style than that Peter Milligan & Brendan McCarthy, as idiosyncratic a pair of creators who ever worked in the medium, picked Frame to letter their psychedelic weird-fest Rogan Gosh in the pages of Revolver.. (I suppose it may have been editor Peter Hogan’s choice; either way, the fit is a solid one.)

I’ve done a smattering of comic-book lettering in my working life, and it’s a thankless task. I did it all on computer using pre-existing fonts (hello, Blambot!) and using programs such as Illustrator and InDesign to construct the balloons, which takes out a certain amount of the art that must have been Frame’s bread and butter for many years – most especially in the physical drawing of the letters themselves. Whatever his trade secrets, no one’s ever had a bad word to say about the man or his work.

I've recently learned (thanks to Jim Campbell for the tip!) that Frame was also responsible for the colouring on covers, the centre pages and various back-page star scans of most of the first 580 Progs or so, adding a huge number to his 'appearances' total. Lately the coloured centre-pages have started appearing in reprint collections so new readers can enjoy the thrill of that small burst of colour that often elivened a Judge Dredd episode (and occasionally othre strips). Another technical skill lost to the digital era.

Here's a badly photographed sample page:

Letters and colours by Tom Frame
Taken from 'The Taxidermist' collection
(Casual reference to 'Amadeus' by Wagner, Grant and Kennedy)

We’re here to salute the mighty Mr Frame.

Heroes of 2000AD No. 2½  
Tharg’s lettering droids

Lack of easily accessible data* makes it hard to attempt to calculate how many appearances Tharg’s surprisingly small team of letter droids has put in, let alone to rank them in between other creators. As best as I can figure it, the 8 droids listed below, by far the most prodigious of their breed, have all provided well over 300 Progs-worth of damn fine reading, comfortably putting them all in the top 20 ‘most contributions’ list.

Raise your hats and glasses again to these dedicated few, who have put in, one suspects, more hours per day, on a daily basis, than almost any creator droid.

Annie Parkhouse – taking the baton of Dredd, and with a Stakhanovite work ethic, to boot. (By my count, she’s likely to outstrip Mr Frame before Prog 2000 – the next one – rolls around)
Ellie de Ville – Mills’s current boon
Steve ‘Brother’ Potter – Pat Mills’s go-to droid of yore, whose letters have spanned progs from 71-1197 (at least).
Simon Bowland – the new kid who has racked up well over 100 Progs/Megs since making his mark in Prog 1498.
Gordon Robson – the resize king of Fleetway, but also a stalwart letterer from 1985-1998. 
-check out his blog!

Tharg’s go-to droids from the IPC / newsprint-era of 2000AD (Progs 1-519) shared duties across all manner of strips, and defined a key part of 2000AD’s appeal. Heroes every one, whose total contributions remain uncountable, I’m afraid:
Bill Nuttal
Peter Knight
John Aldridge
Tony Jacob
Jack ‘father of Steve’ Potter

Heroes of 2000AD No. 2¾: Jan Shepheard

Let’s also pause here to remember and celebrate Jan Shepheard, designer, art bodger and general miracle-worker for Fleetway publications. She is, in the world of 2000AD, most celebrated for creating the original Judge Dredd logo 

Spot the hidden Judge's face!

– not to mention Strontium Dog 

Can you think of a better way to represent both space travel and radioactivity?

and a host of others. As such, it’s hard to quantify, in a fair way, how many progs her work has appeared in, but it’s safe to say that her impact on our enjoyment of the comic is a lot.

*The fine folk who have input reams of data into Barney (without whom I wouldn’t be able to run this countdown) have done amazing work, but if there is anything missing, it’s consistent details on lettering work, especially for the older Progs. A task for a dedicated squaxx recovering from a long-term but not-too-debilitating illness, perhaps.

More on Tom Frame:

More on Annie Parkhouse, Ellie de Ville and Simon Bowland:
interviewed for the old 2000AD review fansite, not always acessible these days I fear.
Here's another interview with Ms Parkhouse that is still active.
A Thrill-cast chat with Ms Parkhouse and Mr Bowland

An obituary of the late Jack Potter:
(thanks again to Jim Campbell for the link)

More info on Jan Shepheard:


  1. I'm a 'hero' of 2000 A.D.? I'm not gonna argue - I need all the positive publicity I can get. I see you have two blogs - would you like me to add them to my blog list?

  2. For sure. Anyone who has put in so much time, effort and creativity into my favourite comic is undoubtedly a hero!
    Please do add this blog, but the other one is pretty much defunct at this point.