Friday, July 17, 2015

No. 33 D'Israeli

First Prog: (as colourist) 1133; (as writer/artist): 1207
(and before both of those, as an artist for a story each in Crisis and Revolver)
Latest Prog: 1940

First Meg: (as colourist) 3.50; (as artist) 4.01
Latest Meg: 345

Total appearances: 228 and counting
-including a number of colouring and lettering credits, and also including three series that ran in the Megazine originally published elsewhere. But not including his work from Deadline.
(if you didn’t include them, he’s still up at 211)

D'Israeli lends his vibrant colours to Richard Elson.Words by Dan Abnett

Creator credits:
Scarlet Traces, Leviathan, Lazarus Churchyard, XTNCT, Stickleback, the Vort, Ordinary, Helium

Other art/writing credits:
Judge Dredd
Low Life
a handful of one-offs

D'Israeli didn't create Dirty Frank, but he's made a massive mark on the character.
Words by Rob Williams

Notable character creations:
Lazarus Churchyard
Stickleback and his crew
The various dinosaurs of XTNCT
Mr. Overdrive

Look! It's the shark-headed businessman from Lowlife / Trifecta.Words by Rob Williams
 Notable characteristics:
innovation; chunky lines (except when there are no lines); sqaure jaws and fists; inscrutable, scrutable and sometimes meta-scrutable facial expressions

On D’Israeli:
(real name: Matt Brooker, in case you’re interested. It’s not like it’s a secret or anything. He’s used another pseudonym, Molly Eyre (geddit?), when writing Future Shocks, too.)
It’s always hard to gauge how people are perceived when all you have to go on are reader’s letters and the handful of people who regularly post on internet forums. But in my estimation, D’Israeli has gone from someone once thought of a highly stylized, slightly off-the-wall artist who did indie comics and the odd bit of work for 2000 AD to something of a legend with a string of hits to his name, and the pick of whatever he wants to do. I guess the change happened somewhere around the time he started alternating Stickleback with Low Life, his two longest-running series to date. Bolstered by two absolutely stunning covers for those two series.

It’s hard to remember now, perhaps, but not many years before that he’d produced one of 2000 AD’s more controversial covers.

Honestly, I’m not a fan of the image of Dredd on this cover – but I am a massive fan of artists who go to town on reinventing Dredd’s look, a long-standing 2000 AD tradition. And this to me is a key part of the enduring appeal of D’Israeli. He plays around. He tries things out. He puts a lot of bloody effort in. It’s certainly no surprise top me that his first work in 2000 AD was a set of Future Shocks that he wrote, drew and lettered all by himself – putting him into a very rarefied creator niche indeed.*

Spoilers, I guess...
Pretty much a solid comics professional by this point, his underlying style was already established. And I get the idea that it’s not one liked by everybody. It is on the cartoony end of what 2000 AD tends to produce, and it’s definitely much more European than American (probably one reason why I like it!). And maybe because Tharg couldn’t be sure how it would go down with readers, poor D’Israeli had to rely on a couple of coincidences before he got a proper foothold in 2000AD.

I say coincidence, it could all have been part of some grand plan. But what happened was that the Judge Dredd Megazine launched volume 4, with no little fanfare, and a whopping great page count. If the Megazine had a golden age, volume 4 is a solid contender. Anyway, part of the draw was a reprinting of the series Lazarus Churchyard, an earlyish work by D’Israeli, written by Warren Ellis. The central character is a several-hundred year old man whose body has been rebuilt out of a sort of living plastic, and by God is D’Israeli’s style ever perfect for depicting that. Kind of angular and organic at the same time; the skin sort of hangs off Churchyard’s bony frame while long strands of lank hair bounce and flail around it.**

It may not have come through in the description above, but Lazarus Churchyard is mostly a comedy.
Words by Warren Ellis

Then, very shortly after that run finished, Scarlet Traces secured a berth in the Megazine.
Less than a year later D’Israeli had all new material commissioned, seeing Leviathan in the Prog, and XTNCT in the Meg almost at the same time. He’d climbed the first few rungs of the fan-favourite ladder. Not to mention showing that a blocky, cartoony style doesn’t preclude an ability to convey gritty action, pure horror or creepy weirdness.

Check those expressions!
Words by Paul Cornell

Bad things are afoot on board the Leviathan.
Words by Ian Edginton
Stickleback to some extent was in the same vein, story-wise, but right from the start readers were grabbed by the change in art. I’ve no idea what D’Israeli is doing differently on a technical level with this series (I believe he works digitally on everything – maybe the underlying drawing is the same?), but damned it doesn’t match the mood. I think it's a lot to do with not drawing any outlines. It’s also noteworthy to me that his art here can look so different while the style and design for the figures remains inherently the same as ever. And, yes, cementing his status as the new king of Victorian/Edwardian-era SF comics (deposing Bryan Talbot, I guess?).

Masterful technique. Still utterly recognisable style.

With that invention on display, he climbed yet more rungs on the ladder. But for my money he reached the top when Rob Williams nabbed him to work on Low Life: Creation. Yet more artistic invention, and it didn’t hurt that it was in service to an incredibly clever story. It also didn’t hurt that D’Israeli’s style is a perfect match for the character of Dirty Frank (while, curiously, it’s also not especially suited to Aimee Nixon). Subsequent Low Life outings pushed the same boundaries of character and city design, and have been some of the most fun strips ever run in the comic, if you ask me. The same collaboration also yielded Ordinary, another delight but with a very different tone. 

What a clever way to show two people standing in the rain.
Words by Rob Williams.

D’Is does great Mega City 1. He’d actually shown this earlier in a handful of Judge Dredds. He’s one of those artists who really brings out the feel of the city and the citizens that often end up being the best part of any given Dredd story. I’ve got a real soft spot for his version of Nosferatu, an occasional recurring vampire-esque monster.

How to feel sorry for a vampire spider.
Words by John Wagner
And here’s a bit of fun he had mixing Dredd with time travel.

Homaging Ezquerra, McMahon and, finally McMahon doing Ezquerra.

D'Israeli's distinctive style was used to good effect to hide the true identity of a character in one-off scary planet story The Vort. In some ways, thes tyle was so different from what had gone before that I found the story somewhat jarring, but there's the usual lovely monster design along the way, and some very vibrant orange, red and pink hues to lend the world of the Vort its own personality.

The Vort is out to get you.
Words by G. Powell (aka...)
Alongside his character designs and innovation, one aspect that always sticks out for me is D’Israeli’s willingness to draw big, complicated, magnificent architecture. The cityscape of Mega City One, for sure. Leviathan in all its glory, not to mention its engine rooms. Depicting the entire city of Luna-1 rising from the ground, ready to journey into space. I like to imagine him raising an eyebrow when he reads scripts with these kinds of panel descriptions, than rubbing hands with glee as he gets to work drawing them up.

Master of spectacle
Words by Rob Williams
It’s too soon to start using superlatives, but so far his latest thrill, Helium, plays to all the man’s strengths. Period (sort of) setting. Designing new cities, fashions and machines. Characters whose faces say one thing and imply another. And some good old-fashioned thumping, too.

A woman in Tintin's trousers pastes one on a man with Tintin's hair. Fun times.
Words by Ian Edginton

It’s been something of a slow road to the top for D’Israeli, but here’s hoping he stays there for a good long time.
Personal favourites:
Scarlet Traces
Stickleback: London’s Burning; Number of the Beast
Low Life: everything he’s done on this series, but Creation and Saudade were especial peaks.
Future Shocks:  metamorphic invaders

I can't for the life of me remember what story this is from,
but it's delightful how definitively D'Israeli it is.
More on D'Israeli:
You gotta start with D'Blog of 'Israeli
His first appearance on Covers uncovered
and stepping beyond 2000AD, here's an interview about his work on Lovecraft

*I think Steves Dillon and Parkhouse have achieved this feat as well, and of course Bob Byrne and Cat Sullivan. Anyone else?

** The stories themselves are intriguing if not mind-blowing, but if you like Ellis or the sort of strips that ran in Crisis/Revolver, I’d definitely recommend Lazarus Churchyard

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