Friday, June 26, 2015

No. 28 Clint Langley

First Prog: 873
Latest Prog: 1873

First Meg: 3.29 (aka 132)
Latest Meg: 360

Total appearances: 274 and counting
-including one of the highest covers counts going

Creator credits:
Dinosty; American Reaper

Other art credits:
Judge Dredd
Nemesis the Warlock
Sinister Dexter
Tales of Telguuth
ABC Warriors

Notable character creations:
Moloch; Golamhs*;

Notable characteristics:
Uses a veritable rep company of friends/actors/people to play characters for photo reference work, most notably himself as Sláine and then as the American Reaper; intricately realized background settings; world building through design; producing photo-realistic looking versions of things that cannot actually be real!

Should exist in real life; doesn't.

 On Clint:
Although he’s worked with other writers, Clint Langley is indelibly linked to Pat Mills. Presumably hand-picked by the artist-loving writer, Langley’s first work for the Prog was Dinosty – a comic intended to run in a junior version of 2000AD known as Earthside 8

This tickles me in that Langley’s style, like Kevin O’Neill’s before him, is one of those that I find to be somehow inherently a bit adult, a bit scary, and basically the sort of thing that management types (certainly at my publisher!) would deem utterly wrong for young children. And so, all the more perfectly suited to the job!

Anyway, Dinosty ended up running during that period when fully painted artwork was all the rage. Langley obliged, but added his own brand of earthiness, shininess and something a bit squirmy and ethereal, too. To some extent, he was making the best of a tricky job. Dinosty the story was half a riff on Dynasty – only with dinosaurs as the rich, bored soap characters, and half a riff on Spartacus, about rebellious human slaves looking for a leader to help them throw off the shackles of dinosaur hegemony. Pat Mills, man. Anyway, Langley was obliged to try to make the dinosaur bits funny and the slave revolt bits heroic/serious (but never too serious).

Semi-serious rebellion at the top; over-the-top dino comedy in the bottom
Words by Pat Mills

His humanoid dino designs were genuinely funny; his over-muscled humans (hello, the 1990s!) a bit odd, but they work OK. Moving onto a monster-based underwater Judge Dredd outing, then a short Nemesis story, with its weird aliens and deliberately odd-looking humans was a natural and worthy progression.

Muscleman and woman.
Annoyingly, I can't remember the context of indeed the
source of this panel. Sorry!

 We were treated to a brief glimpse of Langley the penciller/inker on his first Sláine outing. He’s pretty much very good at it, and you can imagine a different person might’ve stayed on in that vein.

Refreshingly traditional.
Words by Pat Mills

Not Clint Langley. A few episodes here and there on things like Sinister Dexter, Outlaw, Tales of Telguuth tided him over, plus a single series outing on Holocaust 12, before he seemed to go quiet.

Dabbling with photos in the background.
Words by John Smith and Chris Standley

Only to explode back into the Prog as the photo-manipulation guy, and something of a cause-celebre. Whatever your reaction to photo-based art, it’s undeniable that Langley’s tenure on Sláine reinvigorated the character. Time and reprint collections have been kind to mid-period Sláine, which turns out to have been pretty decent overall, just not well-suited to weekly episodes or low(ish) quality printing of the 1990s. But Langley’s Books of Invasions saga – and the wanderings that followed – were a cut above both on their original run, and again on reprint. And in a fairly rapid time, Langley has gone on to be the most prolofic Sláine artist by far (by my count 91 episodes + covers, with Glenn Fabry next on 53), stamping his vision of the character firmly on top of what had gone before.

Gael the Golamh - the sensational character find of 2003

But let’s tackle the photo thing head-on. Here’s Sláine and Kai:
Faces by Langley; Words by Pat Mills

Absolutely nailing the look and feel of the characters, including the way they really do look like father and son. The specific facial expressions are great, too - but the layer of reality still draws me out of the strip just a bit. The effect is worse in some of the talking scenes – it’s just not possible, apparently, to pose two actors, however well rendered, into a scene that feels as fluid as traditionally drawn stuff.

The atmosphere is there, but the characters are, for want of a better word, static.
Words by Pat Mills

But contrast it with s moment of action and scene-setting, and the failings of the first become the mind-blowing art-gasm of the other.

The very next page. Same style, but somehow the whole thing is more alive. Even the talking tombs are more alive!
Words by Pat Mills

Over the years, Langley’s Slaine got better; he grew more confident with his techniques.

Slaine: real; Ukko: not real. Violent fumetti: still funny.
Words by Pat Mills

And then he moved on to a different strip altogether, ABC Warriors. Those early episodes of the Volgan War are simply extraordinary. He transitioned the same photo-style but applied it to characters – the titular robots, that do not exist to be photographed. 

It's Blackblood. Same as ever, but also like nothing ever before.

The Mess as he should be - in a mess.
Words by Pat Mills
And where Sláine's backgrounds were rocky, organic and to some extent ‘real’, Langley’s visions of a future Mars were hellishly urban. Even better, when human characters show up he’s trying something different. Still clearly actual human models, he’s painted them, adding that necessary layer of character.

Going beyond mere photography
Words by Pat Mills
 Kind of shame the actual story used in service to all this wizardry got a bit bogged down in Mills trying to recapture old glories. I feel bad for Zippo – one of the best ‘new’ ABC Warriors visually, but a wooden plank of a character.

Zippo is BAD.
Words by Pat Mills
 Langley took advantage of the nostalgia element of later ABCs outings to remind us that yes, he can still rock the pencils and ink as well as anyone.

Look, it's the same guy who did Slaine: Lord of Misrule!
Words by Pat Mills

We can’t ignore American Reaper, the latest Mills/Langley effort. It’s much more photograph-based than anything that has gone before, frankly to the detriment of the story, but given it’s position as something halfway between a comic and an honest-to-goodness movie storyboard, this was somewhat inevitable. There are flashes of Langley genius here and there (and absolutely in the world-building of the story), but for me, it ends as a major example of what the difference is between comics and films. They are different mediums, they need to breathe and move at totally different paces. Langley himself, in the role as the main Reaper, comes across as a decent actor, mind! He knows what he wants from his face and how to get it.

Moody and dramatic: yes. Would it be amazing in a film with scary music cutting in: hell yes.
Good use of space in a 10-page comics episode: not sure.
Words by Pat Mills

Langley remains an innovator, and the sort of artist was has mass appeal well beyond the limits of people who mostly just love reading comics. And he’s certainly in that rarified echelon of artists whose output is a) staggeringly fast and b) is massively beyond my understanding of just how he can do it. I mean, I can understand asking people to pose for a photo, but the next step in rendering all the costumes, backgrounds, and other immaculately rendered detail is just insane. Andm to top it all off, he's so invested in his work he goes back to re-do and add in extra pages of sumptuous work to his reprint collections. You get more than you pay for with Clint Langley.

Can't end this post without bringing in the eyeball piercing!
Words by Pat Mills

More on Clint Langley
or here: his Facebook page
Or buy his book, why don't you?

One of several Covers uncovered entries
And a video of him singing an autograph, because why not?

Personal favourites:
Slaine: Books of Invasions; the Gong Beater
ABC Warriors: The Volgan War 1 and 2; Return to Earth

*Not technically a character, but the design for creatures that attach to human hosts, as in Gael from ‘Books of Invasions II’, is pretty darned memorable!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

No. 27 Kevin O'Neill

First Prog: (as art assistant): 1
(as cover artist): 1
(as strip artist): 4/24 (He provided an in-story comics-style Flesh! advert in Prog 4, then a full Future Shock in Prog 24. And in fact he was the writer in both cases as well!)
Final Prog: (as art editor): 85
(as regular artist): Prog 524
-but he came back to finish Nemesis the Warlock in Prog 2000, and then in Prog 1280 he had a page in 25th anniversary lark ‘A night to Remember’. I guess he may yet be lured back one day. Please?

Total appearances: 280
(as artist): 195
-including his hand in creating Diceman, and Metalzoic, but not including his work on Toxic!, 2000 AD’s one-time rival from the early 90s.

Kevin O'Neill uses his own strip to poke fun at his tendency towards detail...
Words by Pat Mills
Creator credits:
Bonjo from Beyond the Stars; Ro-Busters*; Nemesis the Warlock; Metalzoic; D'ash Decent; Captain Klep

Other art credits:
Judge Dredd
MACH O (a hilariously weird tale from an old Annual)
A handful of Future Shocks, one-offs and Tales of Tharg

The Blitzspear
Words by Pat Mills
Notable character creations:
Torquemada - arguably several creations in one character! He had a look with a helmet, then a look with a face destroyed by a teleporter accident, then a version as a phantom. Amazing.
Purity Brown
The Terror Tube - something of a character all by itself.
Armageddon - the giant robot with missiles for shoulders and a buzzsaw for hair

Notable characteristics:
Thin lines; lots of detail; having an inherently scary art style**; angles and corners; ooze; being anti-establishment;

A random selection of Cursed Earth mutants - most seen on this panel only! That's commitment.
Words by Wagner & Grant

On Kevin:
O’Neill’s art was a major part of my introduction to 2000 AD, via reprints of Nemesis the Warlock Book 1 in the earliest issues of the Best of 2000 AD monthly. It is impossible to overstate how joyous and brain-exploding it was to behold. It managed to be both accessible and impossible, masterful yet scrawly, and just full of so much detail that poring over the pages even today, after so many readings, still yields new delights. I wanted to spend hours copying it, but also never imagined being able to create that kind of thing from my own head.

This. This is the kind of thing I wanted to be able to draw.
Illuminated borders made of living wax.

What makes it all the more amazing is that O’Neill very much appears to have learned his skill on the job. As art assistant on the Prog from the very start, O’Neill had the painful job of censoring and re-drawing all sorts of work by artists with very different styles – sometimes just to make the page fit better, but often to cut out blood, gore and general ultra-violence that the management feared (but the readers loved). So that meant finding the ability to simulate everyone from Ramon Sola to Dave Gibbons to Massimo Belardinelli. I’ve not tried to find doctored panels, but I bet it’d be tough.

Early work from Kevin O'Neill
(sadly I can't remember where from or who wrote it!)

One of the jobs he liked least was whiting out artist’s signatures, something IPC management insisted on in the dark days of the 1970s. On the back-room side of things, Kevin O’Neill’s greatest achievement was the insertion of the Creator credits box into the pages of a mainstream newsstand comic.
There's one, in the bottom left corner. In amongst all the other gorgeous clutter.

I’m hazy on exactly how it went down, but I get the distinct impression that he just slipped them into a Prog one day, upper management didn’t notice, and by the time they did it was too late, and anyway it didn’t result in the death of newsstand comics.*** It’s the sort of behaviour that maps perfectly onto the ‘a bit naughty but absolutely well-meaning and ultimately heroic’ actions of Ro-Jaws and his ilk. Nice one, Kev.

He also, I think, had the job of filling up stray bits of space with art, most notably including sticking Tharg’s head in the middle of the cover of Prog 1, but also rounding out many a Nerve Centre and house ad periphery. And, more impressively, filling up pages with imaginative weirdness such as the ‘7 Wonders of the Galaxy’ pin-ups.****

Genuinely awesome

So anyway, Kevin O’Neill wasn’t as such hired to be a strip illustrator, but he got his foot in the door through art bodging and periphery. Remarkably, his first published strip work was on stories he wrote and drew (and maybe lettered as well!). This covered an early Future Shock, and 2000 AD’s first irreverent cartoon strip, Bonjo from Beyond the Stars. The fact that this isn’t especially good doesn’t matter! It helped sew seeds of greatness to come, including the early, deeply cutting episodes of Captain Klep, (from its Tornado days, and then the extended run of the Flash Gordon parody Dash Decent. In these short one-page jobs alone you can see his work improving.

Washed-up superheroes, some 10 years before Marshal Law.
Words by Dave Angus

While D'ash Decent fights alien eyeballs,  O'Neill (or was it writing partner Dave Angus?) calls his own good taste into question.

But the real meat came with his foray into Ro-Busters. I have an idea that it was Kevin O’Neill who dreamed up the basic look of Ro-Jaws, and maybe Hammer-Stein (and perhaps some others), but I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that the handful of episodes he drew were dead good.

Its the Star Wars cantinas scene, but with robots.
Words by Pat Mills

It’s also a matter of record that the tube escape sequence he drew for The Fall & Rise of Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein ended up directly inspiring the story Terror Tube, (a deliberate two finger salute to IPC management, who hated it), which in turn led directly to Nemesis the Warlock, the finest piece of graphic fiction devised by man. Already a master of detail and imagination, it’s at this point that Kevin O’Neill stopped being an assistant who dabbled in drawing to being one of the premier comics artists to grace the UK.

The original tube network
Words by Pat Mills

You can tell O’Neill poured his heart and soul into Nemesis the Warlock. There’s just so much going on in each page! Book 1 was plagued with gaps in its publication schedule, no doubt because of the extra efforts he went to. Amazingly, he re-did (and coloured) large chunks of it later on so it’d fit better into the original reprint of Nemesis that was published in small American-size comics.

Even more amazingly, the story goes that what we currently know as Book IV episode 1 was actually the first bit of Nemesis that O’Neill drew, in all it’s mechano-steampunk glory. At first deemed too weird, Pat Mills managed to make it fit later. And of course in the 21st century, steampunk continues to be all the rage, not least in the pages of 2000 AD. Visionary stuff.

Delight in the details. And the horse bag.
Words by Pat Mills

Nemesis Book II was given to another artist to allow O’Neill a longer lead time with Book II, which did eventually see print in a continuous run. And by gosh was it spectacular. Huge great scenes straddled the pages with monsters of design work, battle carnage, interspersed with quiet moments of emotion.

 But, sadly this heralded the beginning of the end of his time with 2000 AD.

It was around this point that American comics took an interest, despite finding his work inherently scary. I don’t know the exact chronology, but he must’ve worked on the original version of Metalzoic soon after. This was commissioned and printed as part of DC’s first wave of original graphic novels, but was also run in 2000 AD (in black and white), I guess in a similar deal to the current Judge Dredd Megazine slot reserved for creator-owned work.

Metalzoic is mental. It’s Pat Mills, so the idea and ideals loom larger than the plot, but in many ways this is something of a proto-Image comics book. You get sucked in by the art, you want to know more about these weird prehistoric-looking robot creatures, although you don’t necessarily find out that much about them. O’Neill is on top form throughout.

Mechanical violence
Words by Pat Mills

It also marked a development in his style. Metalzoic feels of a piece with his Nemesis work, but he then delivered a handful of Dredd episodes in a chunkier, more robust, slightly more polished look. Like this:

Dredd meets his mutant counterpart
Words by Wagner & Grant

In turn, he produced Torquemada the God, a 5-part bit of lunacy that paved the way for new artist John Hicklenton to take on the main Nemesis series.

Torquemada undergoes his umpteenth mutation
Words by Pat Mills
At home with the Sturns
Words by Pat Mills

I fear I’ve not remotely done justice to O’Neill’s skills as a storyteller, and an artist who conveys mood, tone and character as well as any of them. Nemesis the Warlock is an odd beast of a story. It pushes a lot of buttons, including horror, humour, anger, action, social commentary – all of which its various artists have been adept at drawing out. But although this mix is in its DNA, it’s surely O’Neill who made sure us readers got it right from the very start.

Pure horror
Words by Pat Mills

Pure action wwith N'Kognito. Nice!
Words by Pat Mills.
Supernatural weirdness
Words by Pat Mills

 As I understand it, he’s full-time at work with Alan Moore on the continuing exploits of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But maybe, just maybe, the right job will come along to get him a page or 5 in the Galaxy’s Greatest comic?

Personal favourites:
Ro-Busters: the Fall & Rise of Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein (he drew certain key episodes)
Terror Tube and Killer Watt
Dash Decent
Nemesis the Warlock: book I, opening episodes of Book IV; the Ego Trip
Torquemada the God
Judge Dredd: Varks

More on Kevin O’Neill
He’s one of the leading contributors and anecdotalists to feature in Future Shock!
Here are a couple of marathon-length, career-spanning interviews with:
An appreciation of Nemesis the Warlock on the Utopian Impulse blog

Last word to Judge Death
Words by Wagner & Grant

*The internet doesn’t seem to want to credit any specific artist with the design of Ro-Busters, and specifically the characters Hammer-stein, Ro-Jaws, Mek-Quake and Howard ‘Mr. 10 percent’ Quartz. I have a strong suspicion that Kevin O’Neill has more to do with it than Carlos Pino or Ian Kennedy, who drew the first published episodes. I apologise unreservedly if I’m wrong!

**I expect most readers here will have heard (more than once!) the wonderful anecdote about management-types at DC comics declaring O’Neill’s art to be too scary for young readers. They couldn’t point to any one panel or depiction, just the whole style!

What I think people overlook with this story is that, essentially, those idiots were onto something. O’Neill’s scratchy, wild-eyed characters and settings ARE scary. They twist the brain into unusual angles, and his background detail does seem to be filled with illicit imagery and iconography (it isn’t in things like Nemesis; it often IS when you get to Marshall Law and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). Frankly, I think it’s a badge of honour for O’Neill, and it also puts him at the forefront of a 2000 AD tradition – slotting artists into a children’s comic whose work is, somehow, very adult. Hicklenton, Harrison, Bisley, Weston - I’m looking at you! (at least, these were the prime examples from my youth. I’d add plenty of contemporary greats, too – Langley, Davis, Carter)

***It IS true that many of 2000 AD’s top art talent found work beyond the comic after a few years, but one imagines the US editors who lured them away with promises of hard cash / a decent living wage would have found out who they were without needing the credit boxes. Frankly, the old comics practice of not crediting the creators involved just seems weird.

****2000AD has played host to a number of weird and wonderful one-page oddities that are something of a hidden part of the comic’s history. O’Neill’s ‘wonders’ were preceded by the Supercovers, but later Progs had  Mick Austin’s ‘Things to Come’ or Shaky Kane’s ‘Beyond Belief’ to name just two examples.

Friday, June 19, 2015

No. 26 John Tomlinson

First Prog (as writer): 609
(as assistant editor/editor): 828
Latest Prog: (as writer): 1711
(as editor): 977

First Meg (as writer): 309
(as editor): 3.13 (aka #116)
Latest Meg (as writer): 309
(as editor): 3.21 (aka #124)

Total appearances: 283
(as writer): 127
-not including his stint as editor of Judge Dredd: Lawman of the Future

Creator credits:
Armoured Gideon
Mercy Heights / Tor Cyan

Other writing credits:
Judge Dredd (sometimes co-writing with Alan McKenzie)
Plenty of Future Shocks / one offs
The Space Girls*
Brigand Doom
Rogue Trooper

Notable character creations:
Frank Weitz
Armoured Gideon
Tor Cyan**

Notable characteristics:
Jokes, especially the kind the involve poking fun at SF/fantasy tropes that take themselves too seriously. Unrequited love; romantic banter. Also, and I don’t know how to find evidence to back it up, but Tomlinson’s work, both as writer and editor, always gave the impression that everything was meant, primarily, to be a good solid bit of fun.

You can tell he doesn't take himself too seriously, can't you.
Art by Trevor Hairsine

 On John:
As an editor, John Tomlinson is indelibly linked with 2000 AD’s difficult period in the early-mid 1990s. As a writer, he’s one of the rare few who managed to epitomise features of both sides of that same difficult period. Tellingly, he’s one of a handful of ‘newer’ droids who got writing work from both the old regime (Burton/McKenzie) and the new (Bishop/Diggle). Apart from anything else, I choose to glean from this that Tomlinson is a decent guy that other people want to work with!

His breakout 2000 AD hit was Armoured Gideon, which felt like something of a bizarre one-off in its first outing, but later morphed into a recurring feature of long-form but also stand-alone series that was most noteworthy for being genuinely funny, in a Terry Pratchett way. Although he’s had a few one-off stories in recent years, his most recent triumph was a stint on Tor Cyan during the Andy Diggle years, a recurring feature of short stories noteworthy for being exceptionally bleak.

Fun with words.
Art by Simon Jacob
Tense action.
Art by Trevor Hairsine

So that’s showing decent range right there.

Parsing editorial credit is notoriously difficult, as all I’ve got to go on are the Prog / Meg issues under his tenure (Progs 828-977, but 915-977 especially). The commissions for the stories that saw print may have happened well before that! Nonetheless, there are perhaps some specifics to pick up on.

Vector 13: big in the 90s
Art by Dougie Braithwaite
 In the overwhelming positive column, there’s the fact that John Wagner was lured back to the Prog as the regular Dredd writer, starting off with a bang on Conspiracy of Silence, featuring hot new art wunderkind Mark Harrison, and leading directly into Wilderlands. As a stand alone story, it’s not the best mega-epic in itself, but the build-up was great, and the whole thing marked something of a turning point for Wagner, who has much more obviously treated Judge Dredd (the series) as one continuous narrative. Sure, it kind of always had been, but somehow the whole Mechanismo/Tenth Planet bit felt like a much more carefully planned attempt to get long term plot threads going. An editorial suggestion?

Also positive, the FrIday version of Rogue Trooper got an injection of new blood with writer Steve White and artists Henry Flint and Steve Tappin. Perhaps less wisely, an attempt was made to tie in the new Rogue with the old, but at least Tomlinson had the decency to claim this unholy mess for himself by tying the whole thing off with Tor Cyan, his own contribution to the Genetic Soldier mythos.

Strontium Dogs was entering a bit of a mythos mess of its own at the same time, with Peter Hogan taking over from Garth Ennis. The critical consensus is that these stories were just not good. My feeling is that Hogan was being too slow to get to whatever point he was trying to make – he was cut off before we could find out what that may have been. I would say he was at least using the characters respectfully (see also: Hogan’s version of Robo-Hunter). More on this another time. The point stands that Tomlinson was trying to make something of it all, to keep the much-beloved franchise going.

While the results weren’t exactly dazzling, I’d also credit Tomlinson with trying some things out to see what might work. Most openly this includes Urban Strike!, a video game tie-in that was an open piss-take of OTT action film clichés, with a lot of excuses for extreme death. It also covers Harlem Heroes: Cyborg Death Trip. Editors polished the script with the same veneer of snarling silliness, doing enough to make it smile-worthy.

Urban Strike!: exploitation moive in comics form.
Words by Steve White; Art by Mick Austin
Basically, Tomlinson was making the most of what he could with some unpublishable work that 2000 AD was obliged to publish. Further, he was in charge when the 1995 Judge Dredd film came out, meaning he had to a) push Dredd hard (double stories ran for a time there, with Wagner at the front and Mills at the back) and b) refrain from saying anything negative about the film, or even publish especially negative letters. His year-long stint as Megazine editor soon after was a last, hopeful attempt to keep as much new strip as possible, but sadly it didn’t translate to improved sales, (leaving Bishop to step in and essentially turn it into the Wagner Dredd + reprint magazine for a couple of years). Tough times!

Again in the experimental vein, the Prog had room for follow-up stories to unclassifiable stuff such as Soul Gun Assassin, The Grudge Father, Canon Fodder and Mambo. I wouldn’t say any of them are lost classics, but I’d also say all of them are exactly the sort of thing that belong in 2000 AD. You don’t need to have read the first series to understand the follow-ups, and in some of these examples the sequels were actually better.

All-new series that ran in the Prog when Tomlinson was in charge.
What about Tomlinson the writer? Armoured Gideon is surely going to be the series he’s most remembered for. It’s sort of stuck between being not quite good enough to justify a proper reprint, but maybe a bit too good (and too long) for the Megazine floppies. Another digital bundle, perhaps?

Frank Weitz: not every character
needs an arc.
Art by Simon Jacob

In the Grant Morrison / Peter Milligan vein, the series follows a slightly scummy, perennially money-chasing protagonist Frank Weitz, grounded in a very well-defined London.*** Unlike those two writers, Tomlinson sticks to his guns, keeping Weitz front and centre the whole time, and keeping him, for the most part, in the same setting – meaning we get to enjoy a bunch of London references.

Of course, the lasting creation from the series is the giant robot, Gideon himself, who benefits from a perfect design by artist Simon Jacob. At first a genuinely frightening villain (well, I thought so), he soon becomes a comic hero, with his one-word vocabulary and relentless pursuit of demons who try to invade the Earth. Tomlinson even gets to play the Alan Grant game of ‘spot the literary reference’, but having Gideon fight against his counterpart Jerubaal – the honorific name given to Biblical hero Gideon from the book of Judges.

Jacob’s delightful demons aside, the charm of the series overall comes mostly from the sitcom-esque interplay of the human characters. Weitz banters with his loved/hated editor Benson, and in the background, bored middle-aged suburban nobodies dabble in demonology.

Book III tried hardest of all the be crowd-pleasing by plundering 2000 AD’s back catalogue. Apart from getting veteran art droid Mike White to draw an episode, the joke was stretched a bit too thin.

Mike White's Frank Weitz. And yes, that's Bill Savage behind him.
The banter, but not the demonology, loom large in Tomlinson’s other big series, Mercy Heights. The second Sci-Fi medical drama to appear in 2000 AD****, it arrived with a strong cast of characters, fabulous Kevin Walker designs, and a soap opera style interweaved with two really quite dense plots. That Tomlinson made it work at all in 5-page chunks is impressive. I wonder if it’d have fit better in the Megazine, where it could have used a more sprawling page-count?

I suspect the story suffered from wanting to be a proper soap opera, with characters we can get to know and love/hate, but also having to be a 2000 AD action story, meaning characters have to die with a certain regularity, not to mention be exposed as traitors/villains. It made sense that Tor Cyan ended up in a series on his own, but I still miss Kintry, Lila and Administrator Sehetu, to name just a few of the cast.

Gray's Anatomy in space. With killing.
Art by Lee Sullivan (I think in both cases)

In the end, Tor Cyan the series proved something of a swan song for Tomlinson. Elevated by art from Kevin Walker trying out his current style for the first time, and then by new find Jock, the series was perhaps the epitome of Andy Diggle’s ‘rocket fuel’ memo. Take an existing idea, pare it to the bone, and throw it onto the page. Somehow, Tomlinson’s combination of plot mechanics, sombre mood and high sarcasm gelled perfectly to make an exciting and thought-provoking little series. If it fell by the wayside, it was because it was sort of Rogue Trooper, but not the REAL Rogue Trooper – who returned immediately afterwards with a full-on Nu-Earth flashback.

Tor Cyan: grim n gritty n funny, too.
Art by Kevin Walker

Tomlinson has been back in recent years with a bit of Dredd, and I for one would welcome the chance to see an all-new series from the man. 

The essence of a mad citizen
Art by Karl Richardson

Personal favourites:
Armoured Gideon: books 2, 3 and 4
Mercy Heights: Book I
Tor Cyan

More on John Tomlinson
A relatively recent interview on the Forbidden Planet blog

Tomlinsonian bathos
Art by Simon Jacob

*He was the series scripter; one feels inclined to lay the blame of ‘creation’ at the feet of David Bishop, who may also have suggested the basic story (such as it was)

**I’m not clear on who Tor Cyan was intended to be when he first appeared in Mercy Heights. By the end of his solo series, it was revealed that…. (SPOILERS, obvs)

…he was a regened clone of the original Rogue Trooper, made of the same genetic material and with the same combat experience / sense of guilt, but none of the actual memories. Or maybe his memories were wiped later. Or he just forgot them. Or something. It was sufficiently muddied that I don’t think Tomlinson had a clear plan for Tor Cyan beyond ‘he’s a GI, kinda like Rogue and Friday but not, alright. But definitely more Rogue than Friday.'

***The opening episode places Frank Weitz in Brockwell Park, a patch of green just 5 minutes away from the house I grew up in, so I was always going to root for the series!

****The first being Medivac 318. Apropos of these two series, if you like SF hospital stories, I recommend the novels of James White.