Sunday, October 23, 2016

No. 86 Peter Doherty

First Prog: 766 (cover and strip)
Latest Prog: 1995 (colours); 1957 (strip art)

First Meg: 1
Latest Meg: 341

Doherty was one of the few post-McCarthy artists on Dredd to embrace that radical triangular helmet / shiny look.
Words by John Wagner
Total appearances: 104
-including a couple of lettering credits on his own art, and an ever-increasing handful of colouring credits. I gather health prevents him from doing very much drawing, which is a massive shame

Creator Credits:
Young Death
Breathing Space

Other art credits:
Judge Dredd
Devlin Waugh
As single Terror Tale, and a one-off for Crisis

Notable character creations:
Sidney D’Eath* (and his demon dentist dad)
Mrs Gunderson

Notable characteristics:
Generating palpable atmosphere, usually of the urban horror variety: dreary, hopeless, downtrodden, chilly and infused with dread. Also characters with pointy noses and chins (except when they have no chin at all), beady eyes, sinister affect, skin that doesn’t quite fit. And, in among all this, a facility with comedy – often the kind of comedy that comes from everything being so horrible. Doherty has almost exclusively worked in the world of Dredd, which is kind of all about people living in a society that is at root pretty unpleasant.

A comic story, but the oppressive atmosphere of Mega City 1 oozes through
Words by Chris Standley

On Peter:
Doherty’s first work was technically on an issue of Crisis (I’m afraid I don’t have it)

 – but for me, and I imagine most readers, his true launch was super high-profile, bursting onto the page in the very first issue of the Judge Dredd Megazine, with Young Death. Although America is the story everyone turns to and talks about now, at the time I recall Young Death being the more hyped series – not least because it had an obvious hook, namely the secret origin of Judge Death. Certainly before the Meg actually came out, this was the story that made me want to buy it.

A must buy cover!
Now, there are many who’d argue that this same series is the very one that’s guilty of turning Death from a truly horrifying character into a comedy character. The series is often played for laughs, with the evil dentist and of course dear old Mrs Gunderson. But I think it’s ripe for re-evaluation as something seriously sinister. Not least in the light of the recent Deadworld series, the bleakest thing ever, but also, arguably, a spin-off from Young Death (via Anderson: Half-Life).

Whatever you think of the script (I didn’t love it at the time, but find I warm to it more and more on subsequent re-reads), it certainly allowed a new artist the chance to show what he could do. In terms of the painting, he’s got the atmosphere pretty much perfect from page 1:

What a way to launch your career, with an acid-dissolved body being hoisted out of a pit!
Words by John Wagner

But when it comes to people, he’s still, to an extent, learning on the job. I find it makes his work especially human, even with his tendency to depict a rather exaggerated version of humans (often as rather weaselly). Something about Doherty’s style, even now, sort of allows you to imagine him drawing them on the page. I can picture him using a very sharp, thin pencil to sketch out a bug-eyed loser coming to a sticky end…

The fear is all in the whites of the eyes...
 For all the roughness around the edges, Doherty’s cartooning instincts are immaculate.

While poor Brian Skuter enters the dreadful chill of Death's room,
Mrs Gunderson indulges in some slapstick
Words by John Wagner
By the end of the twelve issue run, he was largely fully-formed. His work since then has improved and improved, but the essence hasn’t changed, to my eyes. It’s its own thing, and unlike anything else. And of course there’s that magic ingredient about Doherty’s artwork - it always elevates whatever script it’s attached to.

Ah, the delights up the 'up the nose, staring at the gums' panel. Doherty at his nastiest...
Words by John Wagner
Case in point: Justice One. The story lingers in my memory as a minor classic, even though the murder mystery at its heart never quite lived up to the premise and the setting, and above all, the super atmospheric art.


Actually, I can't remember if this is from Justice 1, but it's an awesome panel of carnage.

Judgement Day, the next Doherty/Ennis collaboration, has its porblems, one of which is the weird mix of artists that work across the series as a whole. While an Ezquerra solo effort would clearly have worked, I'm kinda sad we didn't get Doherty doing the whole thing. His early, zombie-focussed episodes were some of the best, and it would have lent the whole mega-epic a very different tone from others. Hell, I even liked his 'secret origin of Sabat' Beano-inspired epsiode. 


 And of course, there's his Johnny Alpha:


Doherty did get to take on a mini-epic by himself, Mechanismo II. It takes the comic violence of MacNeil’s original and turns it into a tight-knit thriller (kind of like the reverse of the Alien-Aliens transition). Still with comedy.

How does Doherty make this cover so moody and silly at the same time?

More carnage! (In the MacNeil tradition, of course)
Words by John Wagner

Bury my Knee at Wounded Heart - which could, in different circumstances, have been a well-liked but not especially remembered Ron Smith Dredd from the 80s – ends up as perhaps the single best Dredd episode to grace the Megazine, and certainly an emotional high-point of the 90s. It even manages to be funny, too (not least in the ludicrously convoluted pun of the title). In a world where ‘funny’ means feeling angry and sad while laughing. Sure, it's in Wagner's script, but Doherty brings so much to the storytelling:

This panel hanuts my dreams. So cold!

Exploring the banality and extreme importance of death across three panels
Dredd apologises, but can't hide his shame.
Words for all the above by John Wagner

 There's no real compairons in style (except I guess an overload of wrinkles), but some of this work puts me in mind of John Ridgway, that other master of telling you exactly what his characters are emoting.

Prologue (the unimaginatively titled, but crucially important scene-setter for the Tenth Planet, itself the prologue to Wilderlands) has this epic exchange**:

Panel description: 'Hershey looks taken aback, but you can also tell that one of her deeper secrets has just been exposed and she can't quite hide it'
Words by John Wagner
More perfect character work, no?

Of course, there was time for pure comedy, too, with the likes of Mr Bennet joins the Judges (not without its dark and sinister moments)

A riff on UK children's TV show 'Mr Benn'
Words by Mark Millar
And the All-new Adventures of PJ Maybe, who always did manage to be a figure of both fun and horror. But this isn’t him, of course! It’s another in a long line of Dohertyian sadsacks.

There's quite a jump in years from the previous panel to this - and you can see Doherty has more confidence to his line. The colours here are by Chris Blythe, if you're wondering why they seem especially different.
Words by John Wagner
Doherty completes (well, almost) his tour of major Dredd supporting characters with Night School, a tale of Dolman and Vienna, the Dredds who managed to ignore the call to work in justice dept.

Words by John Wagner

And, hopefully not his Dredd swansong, he got to deliver a brand new and recurring villain, perhaps the closest Dredd has come to pure nastiness, the sneering, leering Ratfink. If some readers were turned off by him, it might just be because Doherty did too good of job of realising a figure that is almost too horrible too look at, let alone spend time inside the head of. Chilling.

A sadist enjoying the chase

Even the people sent to catch the Ratfink are corrupted by his nastiness.
Also, check out that rain! Doherty is the king of foul weather.
Words by John Wagner.
 Still within the world of Dredd, some years earlier, there was Breathing Space. Sadly Doherty was only able to complete full art for the first two episodes before ill-health forced him to step back to colours only. But he’d done more than enough work to set the tone for this very odd noir-ish thriller that is ultimately about a man having a protracted mental breakdown.

And this is the opening episode!
Words by Rob Williams
Still technically within the world of Dredd, but really quite far to one side, Doherty delivered what remains the most recent outing for Devlin Waugh, a character he really nails. It’s partly a flashback story, but for me it’s the homely scenes of Devlin and his mum on the sofa having tea and cake that just feels really right for the character.

Devlin's pose in that panel nails the character.
Words by John Smith (now write some more, please, Mr Smith!)
I don’t know if he is just super picky and won’t take on anything less than Dredd (or his world), or if it’s just that Tharg finds him super-suited to that world. He did tackle a couple of Sinister Dexter covers; I guess Downlode is probably as horrible a place to live as MC1! Certainly it's not short of mutant weirdoes.


Since then, significant colouring projects include Mandroid II, Ichabod Azrael II and recent 3riller Mindmines, his lightest job yet! I suppose it’s not that his colouring is inherently dark, more that his subject matter tends to be on the moody side, so this kind of thing sticks out.

So bright!
Words by Rory McConville (a newish droid who must have been over the moon
to hear his story was going to be illustrated by Colin MacNeil AND Doherty on colours)
And maybe it’s right to end with his most recent bit of strip work, the Terror Tale Night Shifts, a kind of throwback to the 1980s world of monster movies.

Words by John Smith
Across a near 30-year career for Tharg, Doherty hasn’t been as prolific as some, but by gosh what he has delivered has been from the top drawer of the top chest of drawers.

More on Peter Doherty:
His own blog (sadly not updated in quite some time)
Another examination ofhis career, looking beyond 2000AD as well
And he’s the subject of an old episode of the Panel Borders podcast:


Personal favourites:
Young Death
Judge Dredd: Justice One; Moving violation; Mechanismo Returns; Bury my Knee; Ratfink
Breathing Space: the story is flawed (but still good); the art is terrific.
Devlin Waugh: Innocence and Experience

*Potentially, ‘De’ath’ is just an alias. But it’s all we’ve got! (And it is a real name)
 **Which I was delighted to see checked in the History of Female Judges series; check it out for thoroughness and fascinating insights!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


While you wait for the next hero to appear, you might be interested to check out a three-part series I've written on my other 2000AD blog.

It's a potted history of black, asian and other characters from a range of ethnic minorities to have appeared in 2000AD and the Megazine.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Normal service will be resumed soon!

Art by Jason Brashill

Saturday, October 1, 2016

No. 85 Siku

First Prog: 928
Latest Prog: 1682 (on the cover); 1372 (interior strip)

First Meg: 2.11 (or 31 in normal numbers)
Latest Meg: 359 (on the cover); 3.44 on interior strip (or 148 in normal numbers)

Total appearances: 106
-and he showed up on a Meg cover not too long ago, so you never know if we might get more of his made paint swirls and gigantic chins.

That's what I call In your face art
Words by John Wagner
Creator Credits:
Pan African Judges


Other art credits:
Judge Anderson
Judge Hershey
Judge Dredd
Harlem Heroes
Sinister Dexter
Witch World (which he actually drew the first few episodes of)
Tales of Telguuth
A handful of one-offs

Notable character creations:
Becky Steel (who for whatever reason I remember more than Assengai, the Judge Dredd analogue from the same series)

Notable characteristics:
Biggest. Chins. Ever. Lots of paint everywhere. Both minimalist and hyper lavish at the same time. Gleaming muscles, not always within human proportions. In fact, exaggeration generally is a pretty key sign of Siku at work. Comical juxtaposition of people and place. Tasteful nudity. (there's a reason he was tapped for both the Femmes Fatales supplement and the Sex prog)

Also tasteful skull-based decor
Words by Steve Moore

On Siku:
Siku is, for me, the poster child of the David Bishop era. A very distinctive artist , not I think universally adored, but one who very visibly got better with each assignment before growing into a signature style.

Siku (real name Ajibayo Akinsiku) got his first work on the Megazine under the said David Bishop, filling in (I guess?) between bouts of Arthur Ranson on Judge Anderson, which is about a tough an opening gig as anyone can ask.

Leanring how to paint
Words by Alan Grant
He improved massively over the course of his next few jobs (including some Hershey stuff that sadly I can't get my hands on). But I’d say his work was still somewhat outside of the norm, and not necessarily my cup of tea. But Bishop stuck with him, gave him the chance to develop, try some different strips and let the man’s own style breathe.

Having fun with shiny paint and human flesh
Word by Chris Standley
By the time Bishop brought him over to 2000AD, Siku was the real deal, a distinctive, competent and compelling art droid. A talent spotted, nurtured and let loose! With a pretty big undercurrent of ‘not everyone’s cup of tea’.

Not least because Bishop deliberately brought him in the sex up Kev Hopgood’s classic work on Harlem Heroes: Cyborg Death Trip.*

The blue lighting effect is way more sophisticated than this story deserved
Words by Michael Fleisher

Descending into total lunacy
Backing up a little, let's talk about Pan-African Judges, where the signature Siku style was first cemented. A style that was all about the bulging, gleaming musculature. And I can’t deny that there’s something compelling about this. It’s unafraid to bask in the majesty of the human body, even if it’s a human body no actual human has necessarily ever had. Expressionism, what.

So shiny; so evocative; so glorious
Words by Paul Cornell

Muscles aside, I feel I really ought to get into the story of this rather odd, unloved series. Except I haven’t re-read it in quite a while. The first series, written by Paul Cornell (but definitely with input from Siku) was specifically told from the point of view of Becky Steel (younger sister of Treasure from Armitage), a black British Judge who transfer to Pan-Africa, a not terribly well defined location within an equally not especially defined concept, or so it came across to me.

Main points of note: the series was, I think, a deliberate attempt to push away from the rather silly world of Judge Dredd: Book of the Dead, a story that suggested 22nd Century Egypt would be all about the pyramids and ancient gods, and not a muslim country. So Pan African Judges gets a future Islamic perspective in, as well it should.

Becky 'antenna-hair' Steel betrays a typically British misunderstanding about Islam.
Words by Paul Cornell
Being ‘Pan-Africa’, it also makes a point of getting in a selection of people from across the geographical as well as political spectrum of present-day Africa (sort of), meaning we get a north African (the muslim), a South African (a white sort-of racist) and a Masai Mara (the notional hero, certainly the noble one of the group). And we got a story about poaching, maybe? It all the unfortunate air of being a bit editorially mandated and worthy, although actually it was perfectly fine. 

Pan-African Judges doesn't skimp on the ultra-violence
Words by Paul Cornell

Like its contemporaries, one could argue that the strip suffered a little from being among the first published work of its creators, who would both go on to get MUCH better at that tricksy mistress, storytelling.**

Book II, the one Siku wrote himself (with help from his brother, I believe), was WEIRD. I think it explored religion in a fairly broad way, with a story nominally about ancient African gods (couldn’t tell you more specifically then that I’m ashamed to say) causing havoc and engendering existential crises in our heroes. And an excuse for more writhing naked torsos in the noonday sun. 

(Actually, this panel might also be from series 1)

Bulging muscles, bulging veins
Overall, it kind of exemplifies the Bishop era for me. Experimental, pretentious, thought-provoking, gorgeously painted, and almost entirely impenetrable.

The futility of fighting a god
Words by Siku

This is, believe it or not, the end. What did it mean?
Words by Siku

By the time Siku delivered his first few Dredds, his style was more like a cartoon version of enormous men with big chins – and all the more fun for that. 

The biggest of chins. Bonus points also for another amazing future hair style.
Words by John Smith

I think it’s fair to say Siku's storytelling instincts were much improved, although he maintained an emphasis on atmosphere across some of the biggest ever double-page spreads to grace either Prog or Meg (big pages in those days, I’m telling you!). There’s a lot of paint (sadly, not all of it terribly well printed back in the day). The Dredd story Fetish, in particular, suffered from a lack of clarity – but in fact, it’s sumptuous stuff. You can taste the wickedness and bloodlust in the evil witch doctor’s heart, you can feel the cloying fear of Judges in Mega City 1 under assault from some supernatural goings-on,


and then sweat it out in Africa with Dredd and Devlin as they ride to the rescue in that rather hilarious on-of-context motor car.


Personally, I first found the joy of Siku’s work with a pair of Bill Clinton stories a little later. Of all things. It’s John Wagner producing some of his most ridiculous (in a good way) writing, and it was matched outrageously well to Siku’s way with painting and cartooning.

A body swap comedy, Judge Dredd style
Words by John Wagner

Siku takes a swipe at his much-loved contemporaries Simon Bisley and Colin MacNeil
Words by John Wagner

 Over in 2000AD, this attitude translated to the likes of Witch World, with its ominous towers and weird priests and impossible architecture,

Witch World had a lot going for it in terms of basic spookiness
Words by Gordon Rennie

over into Slaine, at last back in ancient Ireland,

Challenging McMahon himself for full on cubism
Words by Pat Mills

And, later in the same story, a more classic style
Words by Pat Mills
 and of course on Telguuth, the world that can be anything its artist dream up, as long as it involves tricked-out wizards, viziers and soldiers of fortune, who practically beg to have the bizarre hairstyles and fashion accoutrements that Siku dreams up.

Colours and textures abound in Telguuth
Of course, Siku isn’t just a painter. He’s actually delivered quite a bit in a more traditional comics-looking vein, where his hyper-stylized view of the world gets to shine even brighter.

As seen in the odd section from Fetish, where (in the Bisley-vein), he opts to show his pencils beneath some paint, and they’re super cartoony and fun, too.

Cracking pencils there, eh? Wonder why we didn't get to see this sort of thing more?
Words by John Smith

Witness the same style but now with inks and colours on Sinister Dexter.

Words by Dan Abnett

A mix of cartooning and textured paints, but it works.
Words by Dan Abnett

He’s seemed pretty at ease switching between the two styles, I guess as the story / his time / his mood takes him. He kind of  dropped off the Prog radar over a decade ago, although he’s delivered a handful of covers since then in a somewhat newer style, which I’m guessing reflects his contemporary work on the Manga Bible, one of those super-ambitious projects that can grab comics artists.**

I’ll end with a smattering of covers, showing both his evolution and his ability to really mix it up.




I've no idea what techniques he used to get this atypical effect, but it's bloody good.

A more recent vintage

More on Siku:
His own wesbite
A recentish interview on Sparkol about his work on the Manga Bible and Manga Jesus
Of course, Covers uncovered

Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd: Fetish, The Strange case of Bill Clinton; When the el breaks; Shakespeare at War
Sinister Dexter: The Mating Game; Dressed to Kill
Slaine: The Swan Children
Tales of Telguuth: all his efforts had stonkingly weird art
Rapid Growth

Different style, still massively in your face

*Part of me wonders if Siku, on his own as both writer and artist, might actually be a good fit for the re-imagined Harlem Heroes. There’s a lot in there about machismo and muscles, which are pretty big themes in Pan-African Judges.

**I don't think I'm going to get to Paul Cornell, co-creator of Pan African Judges, on this blog (or at least not for a really long time). So a small aside here to remind readers that his Thargain swansong, XTNCT, is bloody good. The stuff he's done since, for Doctor Who, Marvel and DC, has been uniformly excellent. 

***See also Jeff Anderson, another 2000AD alumnus who has also produced a graphic Bible. If we wait long enough, perhaps we’ll get the Kevin O’Neill version one day..!