Thursday, August 18, 2016

No. 79 Leigh Gallagher

First Prog: 1342
Latest Prog: 1960

First Meg: 293
Latest Meg: 313

Total appearances: 112
-and although he has definitely bid farewell to Defoe, it’s not clear if he’s also saying goodbye to the House of Tharg. I certainly hope not!

Never shy of in your face action
Words by Robbie Morrison

Creator Credits:


Other art credits:
Judge Dredd
A handful of one-offs

Notable character creations:
Defoe and his Dirty Dozenne
-of which I’d single out Mungo Gallowgrass as probably the most memorable
Defoe with a quarter of his brethren
Words by Pat Mills

Notable characteristics:
Earthy; bodies with weight and presence. No fear of detailed brickwork. Conveying evil. Carnage; wrinkly faces.

Carnage and wrinkly faces in one, with added weather effects

On Leigh:
The thing is, Leigh Gallagher is one of those rare artists who has done loads of work over the last ten years, but only on a small number of strips, and what’s more his work started out pretty much perfect. It has certainly got better, but his most recent work is, in many ways, an ultra-refined and error-free version of his earliest published work.

I’ve an idea that it’s kind of rude to tell an artist his style hasn’t changed all the much, but this is indeed how it comes across to a layman like me.

The main thing to dwell on is: it’s effin’ gorgeous. It’s also a way of me confessing that I’m going to let the scans do the talking, and keep this post shorter than many.

Gallagher's earliest work in 2000AD, inked by Dylan Teague
Words by Ricahrd McTighe

Gallagher's most recent work in 2000AD, inked by himself. Spot the difference..?
Words by Pat Mills

Gallagher’s start* came with a couple of one off stories, 

Period funnies with vampires and highymen
Words by Kek-W
 and then he properly launched into the stratosphere with Defoe, one of the best new thrills in the last decade.

Defoe in full zombie-battle gear, which we don't see often enough!
Words by Pat Mills
 As if that wasn’t enough, he took the briefest of breaks to co-create Aquila, another all-time classic (if you ask me).

Yes, the eagle tattoo on Aquila's chest is a deliberate callback to Blackhawk
Words by Gordon Rennie

And then there’s his very occasional work on Dredd, which is perhaps the chance where he’s been able to show off his signature style the most, because it’s very different to other Dredds. Well, it’s reminiscent of John Ridgway Dredd, but largely because he was the artist who drew Dredd as a man ravaged by fire, age and generally being turned slowly into Judge Death.

Older, stonier face

Tackling some classic Mega City Mutants in the Bolland/Exquerra vein
Words by - can't remember, sorry!

Not an angle you want to see a Judge coming from

Back to Aquila, which has endless action, carnage, crowd scenes and scene setting to contend with.

Is this the bloodiest ever 2000AD strip?
Words by Gordon Rennie

There's something amazingly brutal yet matter of fact about this panel.
Words by Gordon Rennie

As if he didn't have enough detail to draw, here's that time Aquila found himself being reborn with reptilian skin.

But it only seems right to devote the most space in this entry to Defoe. Pulling off Aquila no doubt required a ton of picture research and attention to detail, lots of it supplied by Gordon Rennie I’m sure. But this likely pales in comparison to Defoe, which as a) written by Pat Mills, king of intense story research and b) involved detailed rendering of actual 17th century costume and setting, which is nowhere near as familiar as Roman stuff, and c) involved realizing mechanical devices that were never actually built, but theoretically might have been** and as such have to look like they would actually work according to contemporary design principles.

Some insane guns right there
Research and reference by Pat Mills
 Also, zombies.

Gold old fashioned brain-eating zombies; you can't beat 'em.
Words by Pat Mills

Levitating zombies - super scary.

 ...and clockpunks 

Gallagher adds to a long list of stupefyingly fun Pat Mills creations that are introduced and discarded over like three epsiodes. Love the clockpunks.

 A click on the links below will reveal that Gallagher’s most direct point of inspiration for his style is Jose Ortiz, although he is apparently well used to being told his Defoe work looks a lot like Bryan Talbot. It really does, although this is perhaps in large part because like both Luther Arkwright and Nemesis Book IV, the scenery is all brick buildings and London Town from the olden days. And hell, who wouldn’t want a compliment like that!?


I can’t end without sharing this brace of panels, possibly the most disturbingly beautiful villainess in a long line of 2000AD disturbingly beautiful villainesses. I dunno what it is exactly, but something about the eyelids and cheekbones Gallagher gives his girls really does it for me***.

This is who I picture when listening to Alice Cooper's 'Poison'.

One-time Dredd foil Bachmann had something similar going on...
Words by Al Ewing
 Hail Leigh Gallgher, those about to enjoy awesome comics salute you!

More on Leigh Gallagher:
His own blog
An interview from 2011, but still worth a read, on ECBT2000AD
One of several CoversUncovered
An interview, along with Gordon Rennie, all about Aquila, on Robot6
Here is is talking to Stacey Whittle on Everything Starts with 2000AD
Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd: Dog Soldiers; The Family Man
Defoe: the art is just a wonder throughout (and the story has been consistently great, too)
Aquila: Blood of the Iceni; Carnifex


* I gather from the outro to the collected Defoe that Gallagher also had a leg up into Tharg’s radar from fellow scouse John Higgins. No slight to Gallagher whose work speaks for itself, but it’s good to know there’s a network that can help young artists get noticed!

**where ‘in theory’ means ‘in Pat Mills’s wildest flights of imagination’. I mean, sure, some of Leonardo da Vinci’s contraptions have been built, but no one at the time came close.

***See also Simon Fraser.

Friday, August 12, 2016

No. 78 PJ Holden

First Prog: 1233
Latest Prog: 1986

First Meg: 233
Latest Meg: 341 (or possibly something more recent; I’m sure he’ll turn up again soon at any rate!)

Total appearances: 114
-including the episode of Dept of Monsterology that ran in the Megazine.

Creator Credits:
Johnny Woo
Dead Signal

Johnny Woo strikes a meaningful pose in front of a typical madcap Holden background scene.
Words by Gordon Rennie

Rafaella Blue has no qualms
Words by Gordon Rennie

Other art credits:
Judge Dredd
Rogue Trooper
The 86ers
Sinister Dexter
Samizdat Squad
All sorts of one-offs

Notable character creations:
Johnny Woo
SJS Judge Ishmael*
Bastard Zane

Bastard Zane has the chunkiest of all Holden's noses
Notable characteristics:
His work makes it look like he’s always having fun. Cartoony more than realistic. Lots of background details, especially crowd scenes. Chunky noses. Frantic action.

On PJ:
(The P stands for Paul; one dearly hopes the J stands for Janet). You can, kind of, divide Holden’s 2000AD career (to date) into three sections, based on writing collaborations. He’s done a proper chunk of work with the same handful of people, is what I’m getting at. In itself, this paints a picture of a chap that people like to work with, which speaks both to the quality of his work as it does to the man’s obvious affability.

Before I dive into this stages theory, I’ll point out that it doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. Holden has worked with loads of 2000AD greats, from Wagner to Wyatt to Williams to Worley (and some whose names don’t start with W, even). But he has, I think, had an especially fruitful time with three in particular…

Stage 1: the Gordon Rennie years
A bunch of Dredds, including Sino-Cit antihero Johnny Woo. An obvious homage to the films of John Woo, it’s an excuse for Holden to let rip with the frantic action poses that he seems to find so easy (I bet they’re not).

Johnny Woo outguns and outfliches bullets
Words by Gordon Rennie

But mostly it’s about the Rogue Trooper universe. Firstly on the big man himself, but then on the 86ers, which Holden took over as series mainstay very quickly after that strip began.

A hostile environment
Words by Gordon Rennie

Honestly, it’s not the best Rogue Trooper spin-off, but, in large part thanks to the art, it had a distinctive tone, and carried off a real atmosphere to it. Lead character Rafe is a female genetically engineered super pilot, trapped in a world of non-genetically engineered men who basically hate her for no good reason. There’s a whole subplot with nortish PoWs who are equally mistrusted. And some aliens/monsters. But it lingers in my mind for shadowy figures and conspiracy-themed angst.

Shadowy villain types (made even more shadowy through poor scanning abilities).
Plus a gloriously aquiline nose that almost outdoes Peter 'Aeon Flux' Chung.
Words by Gordon Rennie
And, coming very very soon, the Rennie-Holden team is at it again, with Hunted. Is that a Traitor General I see before me?

Stage 2: the Si Spurrier years
-this one’s the big cheat. For a start, one of Holden’s very first published works for Tharg was written by Spurrier.

It's the A-Team, but aliens. In barrels. With confident jawlines.
Words by Si Spurrier

And then in practice, they’ve only done one long-form piece of work together, Numbercruncher. But boy, it’s a doozy! And it’s creator-owned, too, so I can only imagine they poured a lot of time, effort and love into it. Which is appropriate, given that the story is literally about time, effort and love.

The heroic hero's plan starts to unravel while the unheroic antihero's plan starts to come together...
Words by Si Spurrier

The commitment to the pinstripes on the suits alone speak of a care taken. But really, for me, it’s the way the emotions shine through the violence and plot trickery. This is a story about people who care, made by creators who care.
Stage 3: the Michael Carroll years
Well, obviously it’s the talk of the town right now, but Holden has been working with Carroll on Dredd for a while. But yes, on the Lion’s Den, Holden’s background design shone out from panel one.

One fo the first great depictions of Brit-Cit's West End; Holden really gives it a lived-in feel.
Words By Michael Carroll
And then he was the man who revealed that Judge Dredd was not, in fact, dead. Just even more banged up and gnarly than usual.

Those veins! That crazy face-repairing machine!
Words by Michael Carroll

Here’s some more Dredd-y goodness from Holden over the years.

Any good Dredd artist needs to capture joyously lunatic citizens.
Fruther points for throwing in just a hint of McMahon to this Dredd flashback tale.
Words by Alan Grant

CApturing the essence of Dredd as bastard through the medium of silhouette
Worsd by Gordon Rennie

Dynamic fight scene with a werewolf
Words by Gordon Rennie

Doubling the fun by picking the right angle
Words by Gordon Rennie

And some more general funning around.

Storytelling through chins.
Words by Jaspre Bark

Ah, so that line down the skin was deliberate. Nice foreshadowing.
Words by Richard McTighe (I think)

In general I find Holden’s art pretty easy to identify, but looking through this set of (poor quality) scans, he’s clearly played around with a style quite a bit. For some reason his brief stint on Samizdat Squad stuck out for the way he used grey washes, I guess in an effort to match Paul Marshall’s style.

Pure white glasses on shadowed face = evil doctor.
Words by Arthur Wyatt

And, to end, a little look at a little series called Dead Signal, that makes full use of Holden’s penchant for zany action poses and facial mugging. It’s a series about entertainment and showing off and presentation, and it needed a vibrant artist to bring that all to the fore.

Fearless posing meets proper gurning
Words by Al Ewing

The power of the extreme close-up!
Credit also here to colourist Eva De La Cruz, who adds to the manic feel of the strip.

Holden’s enthusiasm as a fan, as well as a creator, has often made me think of him as a real newcomer, but he’s proper establishment now, which is good news for everyone.

Considered use of background space to make your man feel small
Words by Gordon Rennie

More on PJ Holden:
Dial H for Holden – his blog 
Talking to Molch-R on the Thrillcast about the Lion’s Den 
A proper grown up review of Numbercruncher on the FP blog 

Chunky noses; big chins; wagging tongue; goggle eyes - yup, that's definitely a Holden panel.
Danged if I know which writer to credit here.

Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd: It came from Bea Arthur Block; Warzone; Contract on Grud; The Lion’s Den
(and to be honest probably a lot more that I can't quite recall)
Rogue Trooper: Realpolitik
Dead Signal
Numbercruncher (by some margin his best work, I reckon)

*Can’t say I remember him particularly, but he’s listed first on PJ’s Barney page, so he must be a big deal!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

No. 77 Michael Carroll

First Prog: 1566
Latest Prog: 1990

First Meg: 298
Latest Meg: 374

Total appearances: 115 and counting
(especially this Summer! – his total will probably exceed 150 by the end of the year at the rate he’s going on both Prog and Meg)
-but not including his brief tenure as fan-turned commentator in the Megazine’s ‘top twenty’ list.

Writing credits:
Judge Dredd
DeMarco, PI
A handful of one offs. But really, he’s a Dredd (and Dreddworld) man through and through.

Notable character creations:
Judge Joyce (Junior)
-I might’ve added Texas City chief Judge Oswin, but she’s not likely to show up again…

Oswin - latest in a line of lady Dredd villains whose chief weapons are politics and bureaucracy
(see also Edgar and Bachmann)
Art by Colin MacNeil

Notable characteristics:
Consistent goodness at writing Dredd tales. Combining an encyclopaedic knowledge of the strip’s past with a willingness to push new ideas and characters into the mix. Deft comic touches. Bringing out the context of the wider world in Judge Dredd, not just Mega-City 1.

Carroll isn't shy of blasting holes into JD.
Art by Mark Sexton
Fun with wordplay, in the best John Wagner tradition
Art by David Roach
On Michael:
I had, wrongly, remembered Carroll as a writer who went straight onto Judge Dredd, and never strayed any further outside of that world than the two recent-ish series of DeMarco. In fact, like pretty much everyone else, his first published works were of course on a variety of one-off twisty tales.*

There’s a formula to these things that means it’s not really fair to single out anything in them as Carrollian tricks or tics, but I would say that if there’s something that comes across, it’s extreme 2000AD competence. It’s almost as if he’s got access to some secret playbook that says ‘this is how you do it’. As it is, not every twist ending was mind blowing, but the premise is the thing. So, we get a Time travel story about Hitler (groan) – but this time it’f rom Hitler’s point of view (oooh, fun!).

Giving Hitler a helping hand
Art by Gary Erskine
  A Logan’s Run riff that opens with a lovely bit of 2000AD cynicism.

Feeding the hungry? What kind of idiot would try to do that?!
Art by John Cooper
And a fun slice of impossible future tech:
You can almsot see it, can't you?
Art by Nick Dyer

But really, when it comes to Michael Carroll, it’s Judge Dredd all the way. Form the off, reading a Carroll Dredd was a bit like someone coming home. He’s just got it so right, so consistently, and with very little of the feet-finding that has dogged pretty much all Dredd writers not named Wagner and Grant.** 

Getting Dredd right without even having the man himself in the story
Art by Nick Dyer

Dredd done right when he's on panel, too.
Art by Jake Lynch

It’s not that his streets ahead of his contemporaries or anything like that, it’s just he’s such a good fit. His recently-concluded epic (does it have an overall name yet?) provides a great example.

Meet Thorn - who turned out to be a mew pawn of the real villain, but an impressive beast nonetheless!
Art by Colin McNeil
I mean, no one really thinks anyone but John Wagner will write a (the?) story in which Joe Dredd dies – but for a few weeks there, we kinda sorta believed that Carroll had been given the blessing to do the unthinkable.

All that said, beyond the same most recent hyper-memorable storyline, I can’t actually call to mind many specific plots and adventures that he has put Dredd through. I remember Blood of Emeralds, but only to the extent that Dredd and Joyce went to Ireland and had a run in with some evil Brit-Cit Judges, and it sorts of relates to the long real-world history of the English being bastards to the Irish, but I don’t remember the actual specifics.

Which might come across as faint praise, but to be honest I can’t remember much specifically from even John Wagner’s work on Judge Dredd over the last 15 years. I know it’s all been great, but epics aside, I don’t have the recall powers that I do for the stories I read again and again (and again and again) as a young squaxx with a limited set of Progs.

The most obvious point of discussion is Carroll’s willingness to pick up and run with elements of Dredd’s world. I guess you could say he’s following in Gordon Rennie’s footsteps. As if he’s picked up the baton of ‘natural successor to Wagner’ from the same man (obviously this is silly, as Wagner himself is still the driving force, and the likes of Ewing and Williams have been pretty drokking great on Dredd, too).

Anyway, Carroll has taken us around the world, from rebuilding Mega City 2, including a simmering Sov-based subplot there, 

What has Dredd ever done for MC2?
Art by Ben Willsher

DeMarco's story takes her to the heart of a rebuilt Mega City 2
Art by Steve Yeowell

 to Emerald Isle and Brit-Cit, to a whole new construct on the much-ignored Pacific Ocean, the Gyre.

The Gyre: a floating city made up of years 21st century refuse
Art by Nick Percival

He’s also made frequent use of Rico and Dolman, Dredd clones that Wagner likes to tease us with but not bring in too often.

George Michael Dolman lends a hand
Art by PJ Holden

Sideways of Dredd he’s tackled DeMarco and, most recently, brought in Armitage.

Most delightfully, there’s the all new Fintan Joyce, because why shouldn’t Ennis’s 2-year run on Dredd get some love as well? And because young Joyce turns out to be both funny and serious in equal measure.

Joyce as fanboy
Art by Paul Davidson

Joyce as put-upon mama's boy
Art by Colin MacNeil

Joyce as badass
Art by PJ Holden

To an extent, a lot of Carroll’s work has come together on his recent mega-epic, but one gets the strong impression that he’s building up to another big ol’ conflict soon enough…

More on Michael Carroll:
As anyone who’s heard him will know, the man gives good podcast.
On the Thrillcast, talking about killing Dredd
On the much-missed Everything Starts with 2000AD

He has his own website:
Before he turned pro, he wrote a series of fun fan articles for the 2000AD Review website, under the name Sprout. That site may be gone, but the Sprout Files live on!
-I recommend this column from 2003 in particular, in which he suggests 8 ways to bring JohnnyAlpha back to life – and, in a way, Wagner actually did end up using one of them…

Personal favourites:
Tales from the Black Museum: Invisible bullets
Judge Dredd: hell, I’ll just go ahead and say all of it. When Carroll’s name is in the credit box of a Dredd, you know it’ll be a cracker.

Art by Paul Davidson

*And not forgetting that he’d been writing Sci-Fi/adventure stories for a while at this point, too.

**Or of course co-creator Pat Mills, who has ever trod his own path with this particular character.