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!

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