Friday, October 16, 2015

No. 50 Mick McMahon

First Prog: 2
Latest Prog: 1846 (on Slaine: book of scars); before that Prog 1539

First Meg: 2.53 (aka 73)
Latest Meg: 3.03 (aka 106)

Total appearances: 189
-not including the utterly incomprehensible, and never completed Muto Maniac from Toxic!.

Creator credits:
(some of) the ABC Warriors; The VCs

Other art credits:
Judge Dredd
The odd one-off

Notable character creations:

From the world of Dredd:
Chief Judges Goodman and Griffin, amongst many other supporting Dredd characters
The statue of Judgement, Devil’s Island, and all manner of Mega City 1 landmarks
A host of Dredd villains, too numeous to list but here are some of the biggies:
Rico Dredd
The Angel Gang (Pretty sure he drew them first?)
Mongrol and Blackblood of the ABC Warriors
All 5 original VCs both in and out of costumes, and the Geeks, too.
Slough Throt


Notable characteristics:
Lines everywhere, and plenty of ink - exceptwhen there isn't. Increasingly stylized character design. Flattening. Clothing definition.
For an artist with an increadibly recognisabel style, I'm really struggling to pick out defining features aren't I!

On Mick:
Michael ‘Mike’ ‘Mick’ (he uses Mick on his own website, and that’s good enough for me!) McMahon is one of 2000AD’s all time art legends. Pretty much everyone raves about his work, and only has nice things to say about the man himself, too. I’m not going to deviate from those opinions, but I am going to come at the legend from a different angle. Because it’s the only way I know how!

I came to 2000AD as a youngster in the mid 80s, a year or so after McMahon had stopped working for Tharg, and long, long before his occasional returns to the fold. My first exposure to his work was from old Judge Dredd reprints in the Best of 2000AD Monthly, and as such my response to his work was ‘oh, so that’s what Dredd used to look like in the olden days before artists had worked out how to draw properly.’

Dynamic for sure, but not at all polished
Words by Peter Harris (and maybe a fair bit of Pat Mills)

To my eyes now: gorgeous
To my eyes then: what is this weirdness
Words by Pat Mills

It was a very similar reaction to my first exposure to Jack Kirby, another universally-beloved comics legend, when I first saw reprints of his Fantastic Four and Avengers work. “This is weird and blocky and crude” was the general tenor of my thoughts. Same for McMahon, only substitute ‘blocky’ for ‘scratchy’.

Young me was clearly an idiot. Or, to be charitable, was more interested in comics art as only about storytelling, and not bothered about comics art as actual art.

An argument can certainly be made that McMahon’s very first strips for 2000AD were pretty crude, but they were brimming with zest, movement and that tang of weirdness that permeates the best of 2000AD art.

Functional monsters, but also so much more!
Words by Wagner & Grant, I think

The story goes that McMahon was commissioned, at first, to draw in the style of Dredd-creator Carlos Ezquerra. Which he duly did – but fairly soon developed his own style, which he has refined, exaggerated and generally reinvented many times since. And, in fact, his storytelling skills were pretty good at the start – it’s just that he pretty quickly seemed to be interested in using his pages to draw some sneaky fine art in amongst the story.

Straight-up storytelling, with added cuteness
Words by Pat Mills

Storytelling success, but so much more - the poses, the detail on the toad skin, the funky v-headed alien design, the brickwork!
Words by John Wagner

Rico Dredd, one of many arch-nemesises
words by Pat Mills
As well as moulding Dredd’s helmet as if it was made of clay, McMahon treated readers to increasingly gigantic boots, and an array of sneering, snarling, and gleefully unkempt bad guys. Especially impressive was Rico Dredd, a man with so much invasive medical chicanery on his face, all other artists since have chosen to dial it back.

McMahon was far and away the most prolific Judge Dredd artist for the first few years, and across the span of his work on the character between Prog 2 and Prog 196 (and one episode of Block Mania a good bit later), you can see his style develop and refine enormously.

Svelte, Dredd, round helmet
Words by Peter Harris

Stocky Dredd, square helmet
Words by John Wagner

Dredd gets wider; helmet now a semi-circle.
Words by John Wagner

His art seems to work sometimes by sheer force of will – huge numbers of lines and great swathes of ink - but at the same time, very deliberate use of space and occasionally using very little brushwork to convey a lot. Hair, wrinkles on faces and clothes, shadows falling, all meticulously picked out on the page. All in service to the story, but, like the best comics artists, there’s the pure pleasure of a drawing in there nearly every time.

Judge Caligula: the shiny face
and curly hair of insanity
Words by John Wagner
Lines on clothing but not on face:
the beauty of Lara
Words by Pat Mills

At a certain point he seemed to be into shiny patches on round surfaces, from elbows, chins and noses to gleaming metal robots.

 He also came to do an absolutely fantastic line in the various forms of evil, whether it’s the pure evil of the devil, or the vacant evil of the psychopath, or the more subtle evil of someone like Dredd, who hides behind his stubborn obsession with the law to sidestep moral quandaries, and even the na├»ve evil of Slaine, who resorts to violence and trusts in his beliefs without ever stopping to think about them much.

Lunatic evil from two rival burger barons
Words by John Wagner

Pure eeee-vil, like the fru-its of the Dev-ille
Words by Pat Mills

Pure evil meets stubborn evil
Words by John Wagner

Banal evil
Words by John Wagner
But I’m getting ahead of myself! Before McMahon’s fantastical adventures, he had fun with Ro-Busters, the ABC Warriors, and paused briefly to dash off episode one of the VCs, designing a wealth of new characters, spaceships and crazy-looking spacesuits. Masterful stuff – although I think it did make sense for the more hard-action stylings of Kennedy and Leach to see through the series proper.

I especially love the loudspeakers on the helmets, designed for that oh-so tricky communication in space...
Words by Gerry Finley-Day

McMahon’s work on the ABC Warriors in particular really cemented something that I think of as a grounded, earthy quality to his work. When you’re depicting futuristic robots and still make everything look grimy, broken and lived-in, it really brings home the sense of realness, for want of a better word.

Robots fighting robots, but a very human-feeling battle
Words by Pat Mills

Robots in camouflage (not in disguise)
Context by Pat Mills

Obviously this went to a whole new level with Slaine, the Earth Warrior. McMahon seemingly filled the page with black ink and scratched away at it to reveal the pictures hidden within*. And what pictures! Again, 8-year-old me was left a bit cold. Why didn’t Slaine look normal? What’s with all the exaggerated limbs? But with more mature eyes it’s amongst the very best art ever printed in the Prog. Living forests of fear. Maggoty druids, wracked with their own guilt. Flying ships full of angry Vikings, for goodness’ sake!

Uncanniest. Forest. EVER.
Words by Pat Mills

Best death scene in 2000AD? Gotta be a contender.
Words by Pat Mills

 And for a long while, that seemed to be that – no more McMahon** for years and years, until the Megazine loudly hailed his return to the fold.

Now in colour, McMahon’s style was as different again from his Slaine work as that had been from his earlier Dredds. And yet, you can still see the same basic McMahon-iness in the characters, the poses, and the striving to tell a story and draw some goddamn art, too. I don’t know if his work on Howler, and the handful of Judge Dredd work that followed, is actually straight-up cubism, but it’s clearly not far from that world (with a hint of futurism thrown in as regards his love of chunky lines of solid colour?).

Fine art fight scene
Words by John Wagner

If there’s something noticeably different about his recent work, for me it’s the random background details. The Mega Citizens just loafing along while Dredd busts perps. I suppose there’s also a lot more overt thinking going on in the panel construction, the deliberate positioning of people and characters at certain angles that speaks as much to questions of form and style as it does to ‘what’s going on in this part of the story’.

Car chase!
Words by Chris Standley

Tripods run rampant on Mars. Innocent bystanders get killed.
Words by Pat Mills
I also can’t help but wonder if, in his published work, there’s a hint of playfulness about the work that says ‘I know you liked it when I drew in the old style, but I’m absolutely not going to do that any more!’

Still the same characters, but as you've never seen them before!
More on Mick McMahon:
He recently shut down his blog, but you can still read it on the Wayback Machine
There's a transcription of a 1993 interview with the man on Elliott Scribblings blog
And an appreciation of the man's work by fellow 2000AD artist Adrian Salmon
An interview with another fellow 2000AD artist Rufus Dayglo on

Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd: Statue of Judgement; Brainblooms; The return of Rico; Return to MC1; his chapters of the Cursed Earth; Uncle Ump; Aggro Dome; Monkey Business; The Fink; Compulsory Purchase; Howler;
ABC Warriors: Mongrol; the Bougainville Massacre; the Red Death
Slaine:  Warrior’s Dawn; Sky Chariots

 And, one of my all-time favourite covers:

That's what I call composition!
*A simulation of woodcut technique, or did he actually do woodcutting and then print from that? Someone probably knows.

**at least, for someone like me who wasn’t then venturing far outside of 2000 AD, Tintin, Asterix and the odd Marvel comic

Friday, October 9, 2015

No. 49 Mark Harrison

First Prog: 682 (cover artist); 717 (strip artist); 1082 (colourist)
Latest Prog: 1899?

First Meg: 3.52 (aka 155), as cover artist
Latest Meg: 330, as cover artist
- curiously, he’s only provided one piece of strip work for the Meg, an episode of Durham Red: the Scarlet Apocrypha in issue 4.18.

Total appearances: 191 and counting

Creator credits:
Glimmer Rats; The Ten-Seconders – and arguably also Durham Red counts, not as a new character but as a dramatically new re-imagining of her look and situation.

Other art credits:
Judge Dredd
Strontium Dogs
Damnation Station
Grey Area
Plenty of Future Shocks and other one-offs

Notable character creations:

The hell dimension of the Glimmer is something of a memorable character…
If not for Durham Red herself, Harrison certainly gets credit for her new supporting cast, chiefly Judas Harrow and Matteus Godolkin (I’m pretty sure I’ve not quite got those names right…)
Molloy and Harris from Ten Seconders, and a handful of the Gods, although the two I can easily bring to mind are Reed Richards parody the Scientist and Ben Grimm analogue Damage

The evolution of Durham Red...

Hanging out with the Gronk, still a Strontium Dog, still mostly in red.
Words by Peter Hogan

Now twice as gothic, and almost all in black.
Words by Dan Abnett (or maybe it's Alan Smithee..?)

Those clothes are rapidly disappearing...
Words by Dan Abnett

Almost entirely naked, and now almost completely feral.
Words by Dan Abnett
Notable characteristics:
background noise; working with computers a lot; vast space vistas; incomprehensible crowd scenes; dense detail; space opera; future war; guns’n’splosions – see also bombs, energy weapons and violent, gooey death.

It's a safe bet that Harrison likes James Cameron's Aliens.
Words by Dan Abnett
On Mark:
Harrison launched into 2000AD helping to set the scene for one of the biggest Dredd epics in years. Wilderlands, ultimately, didn’t go down as an all-time classic. But the set-up, which began with the Mechanismo storyline, was a big deal. Harrison’s chapter, Conspiracy of Silence, was perhaps the biggest deal of all. In the story, Dredd discovers that Chief Judge McGruder has been lying to him. She, in turn, discovers that Dredd also lied. It’s a pretty major part of Dredd history, and his relationship to the whole system of Justice in Mega City has been simmering away ever since.*

Harrison’s art, at that time, was kind of ropey. But it brought something new to the comic and especially to Dredd’s world that really grounded the story, making it feel real. Partly it’s the digitalesque painting (I don’t know if he was already using just computers at the time. I guess probably?), but a lot is his immediate and effective use of hurling around background noises every which way. Yes, a city is a living, noisy place. Yes, in the future, there will be a lot more electronic humming and robotic / pre-recorded safety announcements. Also, insects still exist, especially when they’re functioning as metaphors.

Harrison's debut for Tharg was full of mood and menace.
Words by John Wagner

Given that a big part of Dredd’s world is that robots do so much of the work that most people are unemployed, it’s a shame that Harrison hasn’t put in more episodes. A single story and a handful of covers since his debut.

Harrison's Mega City 1 is a lived-in place, full of background goings-on.
Words by Rob Williams

But maybe this is because he was soon tapped for another series – Strontium Dogs. He arrived during a troubled time when Ennis had quit the series, replaced by Peter Hogan, who evidently wanted to tell a story that Tharg wasn’t especially keen on. I wouldn’t like to guess at the exact whys and wherefores of it all, but someone got the idea of bringing Durham Red back into focus, and then got the idea that Harrison drew her rather well, and then that the character really ought to be in a spacewar setting. Which in turns suggested noted Warhammer 40,000 writer Dan Abnett. Maybe it was the other way around, and Abnett got the character first, then chose to push her into the future?

Whatever the chain of events, Harrison got to pay his dues drawing some arguably plodding adventures of Durham Red, the Gronk, Feral and the Wandering Lady before launching into a series that was one of the biggest deals at 2000 AD as it neared the Year 2000: Durham Red. Yes, she was the same character as invented by Wagner, Grant and Ezquerra, but what she looked like and what she got up to was really an entirely new series. And boy, did Harrison ever put his all into it. Also, Tharg and the higher ups knew a marketing opportunity when they saw one, and sexy redhead vampire ladies were not far from covers and publicity materials for a while there.**

Why yes Mr Bishop, I think that cover will shift a few extra copies of the Prog.

Again, I have no idea what techniques he used for each book of the three-book Durham Red in space saga, but it was obviously a lot of work. It may even be the case that he created 3D versions of various spaceships so he could spin them around to find the perfect angle to shown them from in any given panel. It’s that sort of level of crazed detail. Astonishing stuff.

Harrison put a lot of effort into the characters, too - arguably a little too much. Like many comics artists before and since, Harrison used likenesses of actors for his cast, although he fiddled them a bit. Nothing wrong with this, and I’m all for more Julian Sands in comics, but I do think this decision made it a lot harder for Harrison to draw the same character from different angles and keep them recognisable. At times, it is not immediately obvious which character is which in certain scenes. On the other hand, when a panel is great, it’s gorgeous.
I’m getting ahead of myself a bit, but it’s well worth saying here that this is an issue that Harrison has completely ironed out in his present work – certainly since Damnation Station.

Durham Red overall is something of a flawed masterpiece. It shifts around in tone from gun action to space opera to snide comedy to family drama, with a rather neat through-line in religion and the problems of being a messiah. The ideas are great, the characters fun, but the episodic narrative not always matching. Harrison’s art, meanwhile, stays fairly consistent, and I wonder if it’s this that upsets the tone a bit. The gunplay is exciting but not always clear; the space opera is beyond magnificent, and the messianic stuff is pretty great, too – but sometimes it was all a bit too murky. To be fair, a lot of this is a question of print. On computer, his art is far shinier, as a rule.

A Durham Red moodboard, lifted from Barney

In between Durham Red books, Harrison poured equal amounts of digital ink into the Glimmer Rats. As other reviewers have noted, the very fact that it’s sometimes hard to see what’s going on actually suits this series down to the ground. A team of prisoners/soldiers are sent through a portal to wage war in hell against largely unbeatable spooks and spectres. If it was a film, it’d be the most 18-rated action film you could imagine, only with more gooey explodey death. I didn’t care for it that much first time around, but it had lingered in my head for more than 10 years now, and a recent re-read was much more favourable. Seriously grim, seriously moody.

I think what's happening is that a man is possessed by some sort of phantasm and then implodes gorily.
Just go with it.
Words by Gordon Rennie

When someone makes a mistake in the Glimmer, they will get gunned down AND exploded.
It's the only way to be sure.
Words still by Gordon Rennie.

Around this time, Harrison wrote and drew a handful of Pulp Sci-Fi stories. It’s probably not the case but I can imagine then-Tharg (Andy Diggle, I think?) invented the series largely as a vehicle for Harrison. His stories don’t have traditional twists like Future Shocks, but they are proper 2000AD, with hard Sci-Fi and violence and a hint of weirdness.

Some fine laser guns right there.

In a complete change of pace, Harrison provided a single episode of the Scarlet Apocrypha for the Megazine, in which Durham Red is re-imagined in a number of different vampire contexts. His version sees her as 60/70s horror icon on the convention circuit, and he unleashed a caricature Mort Drucker style, unlike anything he’d done before, and an utter delight. So much glorious background detail.

References to the Twin Towers and Rebellion taking over 2000AD were well soon after the facts...
Words by Dan Abnett (and is that actually a caricature of Abnett on the far left?)

To Harrison’s enormous credit, he went on to channel this sort of creativity in future work. The Ten Seconders is much lighter than his earlier work, the characters less openly (if at all) based on photo reference, and generally the storytelling is clearer. And yet, there was room for improvement, as if he was playing around with new techniques that weren’t quite gelling yet.

A mix of draightsmanship and digital manipulation really sells the action of
boarding a plane in mid-air.
Words by Rob Williams

Damage: part Mongrol, part the Thing.
Words by Rob Williams
 But gel they did, when Harrison emerged after years doing mostly covers (especially for Rebellion’s novel imprint, Abaddon), to tackle the latest Space War saga, Damnation Station. To my mind, it’s the perfect synthesis of his cartoony style and his ultra high-def space opera goodness.

That alien is soo delightly gooey and creepy. Love it.
Words by Al Ewing

Harrison always puts the effort in, here showing the torutred inner-thoughts
resulting from PTSD in space.
Words by Al Ewing
The same style is currently lending itself absolutely perfectly to Grey Area. Harrison appears to have come full circle, working in tandem with Dan Abnett on a space-spanning saga involving cynical, sour-faced humans and sexy alien ladies.

And, as ever, a continuous stream of background noise.
Words by Dan Abnett

More on Mark Harrison:
He has a gallery hosted by Barney here.
Covers Uncovered old(ish) and new.
Thoughts on Durham Red from The Hipster Dad
-haven't found any interviews, though, which is a shame as it seems as if he's a dude who'd have stuff to say.

Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd: Conspiracy of Silence
Durham Red: The Scarlet Cantos; The Vermin Stars
Glimmer Rats
Damnation Station:  The ending (technically 5 different stories, but they were presented as a continuous run of 12 Progs)
Grey Area: Nearer my God to Thee – and everything since then, too.

Somehow, the crazy alien face is showing empathy. Amazing.

*It keeps nearly being resolved, especially with Origins and its follow-on saga Tour of Duty, but never really is. I guess because the only actual ending would be for Dredd to come out against the system and demand a new style of government in MC-1 (presumably involving things like Democracy and a return to trial by jury, or at least trials of any kind!), which would pretty radically re-write the rules for how to tell a basic one-off Judge Dredd story. Not gonna happen.

**See also the computer game BloodRayne, which officially did not appropriate*** Harrison’s redesign of Durham Red.

***Not that 2000AD as an institution has much of a moral leg to stand on when it comes to borrowing existing designs every now and then.