Saturday, May 27, 2017

No. 106 Peter Hogan

First Prog: 793 (although he had a strip in the 1992 Sci-Fi Special, published a couple of weeks earlier)
Last Prog: 1023

Total appearances: 86
-including his stint as editor of the sadly short-lived Revolver, and his strip from the 2000AD Action Special, but not including an unknown amount of issues of Crisis that I think he edited at some point before he started Revolver.

Art by Nigel Dobbyn

Creator credits:

Tharg’s Dragon Tales

Art by Tim Bollard
Other writing credits:
Strontium Dogs / Durham Red
A Christmas episode of Judge Dredd
The Steel Claw*
various one-offs

Notable character creations:
The Walking Lady
Old Father Time (not to mention death and God)

Come on, how can you not find this charming?
Art by Tim Bollard

Notable characteristics:
Gentleness; thoughtfulness; playfulness; some might say ponderousness?
In perhaps deliberate contrasts to some of his 2000AD contemporaries (Mark Millar, I’m talking about you), Hogan’s stories tended to use violence and surliness sparingly.
Handy with wordplay, puns, and literary references. 

It's the Alan Grant / Peter Milligan school of literary references. I love it!
Art by Rian Hughes
Based on the kind of stories he wrote, he may have been the nicest person ever to work for 2000AD. Like, a classic Hogan Future Shock is where an ancient wise tree imparts great wisdom. It's even called 'A time of Peace'. It's nice.

Art by David Hill

On Peter:
I believe Hogan’s first involvement with the world of Tharg came from behind the scenes, as a fill-in editor on Crisis, but really making his mark as the editor of Revolver

Design by Rian Hughes; Art by Brendan McCarthy
You may not have read any of that ill-fated comic’s eight issues, but if you were reading the Prog in the late 1980s / early 1990s, you can’t have failed to see it advertised. At the time, Crisis had been a moderate success (the early issues sold well, at least); rival music/comics mag Deadline was doing even better. Tharg-in-Chief Steve MacManus was hard at work prepping The Judge Dredd Megazine, basically designing tit to be 2000AD for grownups. Somehow, there was room for one other adult-aimed comic, and that was to be Revolver. The sort of comic that had two spin-off specials, one horror-themes, and one romance-themed.


I’d love to know what the brief behind its creation was. It appears to have been ‘adults like comics, now, right? Especially the sort of adults who really like music and pop-culture and stuff. Let’s do a comic for them.’

This ends up with the highs of Dare and Rogan Gosh, the worthwhile indulgence of Purple Days, and the lows of Happenstance & Kismet. Also Dire Streets, which was pretty decent but ultimately unremarkable. Slice-of-life comics, you’ll just never get out of the 90s for me. I’m curious to know how much control Hogan himself had over what went into the comic, and how much he was just putting together stuff in haste. It’s also worth noting here that he was teamed with wunderkind designer Rian Hughes, who helped set the tone of Revolver, and would also go onto collaborate with Hogan on his most successful 2000AD series – which we’ll get to later.

Design and art by Rian Hughes
A crude comparison can be made between Revolver and StarLord. Like that ill-fated 1978 comic, Revolver was glossier, prettier, cleverer and had (some) amazing stories in it. It also failed, for who-knows-what reasons. There’s a case to be made that Hogan wasn’t cut out to be an editor of a monthly comic because he wasn’t mercenary enough. As in, he made sure the strips were good, but failed to make keep an eye on whether people actually wanted to read them.**

I wish Revolver had been able to last for 22 issues, just to see what other strips Hogan would’ve slotted into the line-up, eclectic as it was. Instead, Hogan lost his job as editor, and shuffled over to 2000AD as something of a regular writer for a number of years until David Bishop took over and told him he didn’t want any more stories about people talking instead of shooting each other.***

Time to tackle Peter Hogan, writer at large!

Tharg himself says that when Peter Hogan got wind of the idea that there should be a series of Future Shock-type stories focussing on dragons, he demanded that he write them. And so we got three Dragon Tales. They’re uniformly dull, I’m sorry to say. Not necessarily bad, but they sure didn’t linger in the mind of this reader.

Even when his leads characters are being nasty too each other, it's all a bit refined.
Art by Nigel Dobbyn

As if to make up for that, Hogan brought smiles of joy and relief to readers everywhere (or at least, to me!) with his take on Robo Hunter. Where Mark Millar had murdered and sleazed his way through a painfully silly take on Sam Slade, Hogan classed it up with charm and wit.

Hogan sets his stall out early, reclaiming Slade for a new series of adventures.
Art by Rian Hughes
It’s mostly here that Hogan’s fondness for wordplay comes to the fore. It’s also important to stress just how much it warmed this reader (Me! I’m talking about me!) to see Sam Slade and Hoagy having fun and enjoying simple, clean adventures without ultraviolence and misogyny getting in the way. Rian Hughes on art made the whole thing very retro-future, giving a spin on the noir influence of Sam Spade by way of future fashions.

That's like 4 puns in one panel! Stellar.
Art by Rian Hughes

Robot class wars - the essence of RoboHunter
Art by Rian Hughes
Metrobolis, in which angry unionised worker droids kidnap New York City, was a longer adventure that captures some of the lunacy of Wagner’s original, but at a more sedate pace. I’ll forgive it many sins for introducing Mayor Helena Handcart (you have to say it to appreciate it…).

These stories have all been reprinted in the RoboHunter Droid Files vol 2 - but they really deserve another airing in full colour. Hughes' art rendered in greyscale really doesn't do it any favours, especially in the murky print-edition. (It's not so bad digitally).

Time House soon followed, a new series unlike any other in 2000AD, before or since. I know it’s not much liked, but I really, really liked it at the time, and still enjoy it now although I’ll confess the jokes haven’t entirely held up for me. Some of the scenes are a little too silly, a little too light British sitcom. 

This is what Downton Abbey would look like in 2000AD
Art by Tim Bollard
But, you know, the adventures of the Time family keeping messes in check plays as the Beano version of Indigo Prime. They’re essentially the same basic story idea but one is played for laughs, the other for brain-warping horror and nausea. Series artist Tim Bollard takes much of the credit for absolutely matching Hogan’s sensibilities. What actually happens in Timehouse? Well, the various children of Old Father Time run (or amble gently) around moving people from the wrong time periods back to the right ones, 


Art by Tim Bollard
usually by walking through various doors in a big old country mansion type house. Class and family comedy is sometimes thrown in. Super charming.

Hogan pokes a bit of fun at his editorial overlord
Art by Tim Bollard
And then there’s Hogan’s biggest contribution to Tharg, as he took over writing duties on Strontium Dogs, aka the further adventures of Feral and the Gronk, and brought Durham Red firmly back into that world. Once again, the art had a part to play. Nigel Dobbyn was a great fit for Hogan’s storytelling, but not really a great fit for the actual story Hogan wanted to tell.

A penal that promises so much, but never quite delivers
Art by Nigel Dobbyn

Mark Harrison was a great fit for the series, but a terrible fit for Hogan both in style and execution.

Yes, that's why you hire Mark 'EPIC SPACE WAR' Harrison, to draw people having a fireside chat...

The one bright spot was, for me, Simon Harrison, who showed up near the end to deliver Feral’s penultimate mutation:

This is Hogan knowing when the let the artist do the heavy lifting.
Art by Simon Harrison
Maybe I’m just a sucker for Harrison’s art, but he seemed able to work with Hogan’s languorous pace to let the reader drink in atmosphere and awesome visuals.

(Then there was Trevor Hairsine, who famously disliked the script so much he gave up and drew in flying thrill suckers instead. Although ironically, if he’d come aboard earlier it may have all worked out better!)

But what was the story actually about? I’m not sure anyone, Hogan himself, really knows, as it all ended up being drip fed across short stints with long gaps in between, and the inevitable episodes in Specials that were too important to ignore. Including Hogan’s first actual work for Tharg (I think?), a Johnny and Wulf flashback that is nicely vicious:

Learning a lesson from John Wagner.
Art by John Ridgway
 But commits the sin of kicking off Hogan's ongoing lark with the Walking Lady.

I hate the Walking Lady. I get that wise old crones are a standard trope in hero fiction, and it worked out well in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but here she just exists to be cryptic and irritating, a fact that the characters themselves point out without overcoming the problem of her being cryptic and irritating.

You said, it, Gronk.
Art by Simon Harrison
It sort of turns out that she’s there to guide Feral through a series of mutations so he can be reborn as some sort of mutant messiah or something, but we never get to see the fruits of that. The Alphabet Men were fun villains who get mixed up in the hunt for Feral, but again their master plan isn’t given enough depth.

But I'll never get tired of putting up pics of them here!
And there's those Hogan-esque refined speech patterns again.
Art by Nigel Dobbyn
Basically, there’s a little too much of the scenes of people sitting around (or walking around) talking about what’s going on, and not enough action!

All that said, it’s not actively bad, either, and it’s not as if outgoing writer Garth Ennis had left much of a direction for the strip to go in, except the whole ‘Feral keeps on mutating’ thing. Hogan’s Durham Red stories work a fair bit better, with a lovely bit of early 90s pretension called ‘mirrors’ exploring what mirrors mean to a vampire who isn’t really a vampire. And there’s a natural sass to Red herself that Hogan is adept at drawing out in his dialogue.

You get the sense Hogan was always more in tune with Crisis/Revolver than he was with 2000AD;
he later moved to write Vertigo comics, which makes a ton of sense.
Art by Mark Harrison

It’s possible (although unlikely) that if the entire run was collected in order in a single book it might be quite good. But there’s not enough goodwill in the world from the readers to make that likely! And to be fair to us readers, for a strip that was originally about bounty hunters wielding crazy future weapons, Peter Hogan’s ‘Strontium Dogs’ has way too much chat and not enough punching!

Although a stray RoboHunter episode would be his final printed series, Hogan maintained a steady supply of Future Shocks and Vector 13s that speak to his sensibilities rather well. They’re gentle, relatively well-constructed, if sometimes obvious takes on genre staples.

One of many Vector 13 tales to explore the JFK assassination.
Art by Lee Sullivan

Yes, that's Hitler getting his due from a demon
Art by David Hine
My favourites are a classic take on clones, one of those stories where the ending is so apt you can’t help but think you should have guessed it from panel 1 – except you don’t (or at least, I didn’t)…

Can you predict the ending..?
Art by David Hill
And I’ll end with a sequence from an almost entirely silent story, called ‘hush’

Art by Jon Haward

that I’ll now spoil for you by saying how much it puts me in mind of the film Scanners, opening as that film does with a shabby-looking tramp who harbours a secret. It’s also a great example of telling a story without words, obviously a big debt to Jon Haward but I suspect Hogan did a lot of work to suggest the sequences, too.

Peter Hogan was unlike almost any writer before or since, and that’s always a good thing. And, despite a rather unceremonious booting from the Prog, he did pretty well for himself in comics, moving over to pick up from one Neil Gaiman on Sandman spin-off the Dreaming, and then from one Alan Moore on his Tom Strong series. More recently he’s had big success with Resident Alien and Kings Road (drawn by 20000AD stalwarts Phil Winslade and Staz Johnson).

More on Peter Hogan:
A career-spanning interview on Tripwire:
(which barely touches on his writing for 2000AD, sadly)

-perhaps not surprisingly, I can’t find much that references his 2000AD work, other than him pointing out that this was where he first tried writing comics, and was very much learning on the job. It’s safe to say that virtually everyone thinks he got better after he moved to Vertigo!
More ‘love’ has been shown to Revolver:
I’ve written it on myother 2000AD blog
And the good people at Everything Comes Back to 2000AD

Those cretins!
Art by Lee Sullivan
Personal favourites:
Robo Hunter: Winnegan’s Fake; Metrobolis
Durham Red: Mirrors
Future Shocks: A Kind of Hush; Time of Peace; Clone Wolf

*Not a 2000AD character, but in 1992 Tharg thought maybe he could be used as one. And now, of course, he’s owned by Tharg again – I think?

**The consensus seems to be that lots of people wanted to read Dare, but not enough of them wanted to pay for a comic full of other strips they didn’t want to read. Even Rogan Gosh, which many acknowledge as a masterpiece but all agree is rather hard work.

***As far as I know, there is no actual bad blood between Bishop and Hogan. And I’m entirely making up a reason why Hogan’s work was no longer wanted.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

No. 105 Dom Reardon

First Prog: 1021 (a star scan); 1301 (interior strip)
Latest Prog: 1868

Total appearances: 87


Creator credits:

Caballistics, Inc
The Grievous Journey of Ichabod Azrael (and the dead left in his wake)

Other art credits:
The Ten Seconders
a handful of Terror Tales
-I think he’s also one of the first artists on the countdown who has never drawn an episode of Judge Dredd – or even an incidental picture.

Notable character creations:
Ichabod Azrael
The cast of Caballistics, Inc
-         including Harry Absalom

This convenient cover shows off the cast of Caballistics neatly
Notable characteristics:
Ink that feels like blood. Portentous use of empty space. Deadpan humour. Deadpan horror. Stylish sound effects. Pages where he uses panel borders to highlight different parts of a scene for dramatic effect, that mimic the readers’ gaze rather than showing progress in time.*

Why don't more artists use this neat comics trick?
Words by Gordon Rennie
The thing is, Reardon has basically only worked on two series, so it’s very hard to separate the artist and his style from the specific needs of those series. But by gosh he was perfectly suited to both contemporary British horror and period western hellscapes.

A car in the rain says 'film noir', but the style of the rain and the headlights give the whole panel a horror vibe, no?
Words by Al Ewing (I think)

On Dom:
Well, here’s an artist who seemingly went from 0-100 in the blink of an eye! Apart from a rogue painted star scan,


he didn’t trouble Tharg much until a very small string of moody Terror Tales singled him out as the ideal foil for Gordon Rennie’s masterpiece**, Caballistics, Inc. Actual publication dates even suggest there was an overlap between the commissions.

In any event, Reardon’s stark, black and white dread from his first published Terror Tales

Little touches like the wooden beam and the loose light bulb really sell this gruesome scene.
Words by Gary Simpson
If I hadn't just recently scanned this in, I'd never have guessed it wasn't a scene from Caballistics, Inc. But it isn't!
Words by Gary Wilkinson
were every bit as fully formed as his stark, black and white dread on Cabs

These panels set the scene for the very first episode: quiet European splendour mixed with creepy dudes in mansions.
Words by Gordon Rennie
and indeed he maintained a joyfully consistent style across the next few years as the exclusive artist on that epic series.

And this sets the scene for the final series, in which Glasgow is laid waste.
Can you spot a change in style?
Words by Grennie

 The art was a huge part of the success of the strip, which needed to be both chilling and humourous, with characters selling the story as much through their expressions and body language as through their dialogue.

Doing a lot with a little. Those two flasks are just enough to bring the vibe.
Words by Gordon Rennie
There’s a lingering background of sleaze and devilry that massively add to the tone of the piece. But even in 2000AD, you couldn’t show what people like Ravne were actually up to. Rennie no doubt provided careful descriptions of the sorts of things he got up to behind closed doors (and sometimes in front of them), but it’s Reardon who brings that necessary layer of sleaze in what he does show, which sparked all sorts of dark corridors in my imagination.

Yeah, that's definitely blood drizzled on the arm there. Brrrr!
Words by Grennie (and what a way to introduce a new character!)

Not subtle, but effective.
That's the abrasive but hilarious Hannah Chapter - who has her own woes, of course:

This is called 'using negative space to bring emotion to a scene'.
Words by Gordon Rennie

And then there’s the plotlines, which move from haunted tube stations


to fairies at the bottom of the garden.


Reardon’s work did get better over the years on the series, but frankly not by much – because it started off so well! There is no more Caballistics, Inc, which is very sad***, but the same story did introduce one Harry Absolam

What if Einstein was a grizzled Lahndan copper?
Words by Gordon Rennie
who we now know and love as Harry Absalom. Reardon sowed the seeds that newcomer Tiernan Trevallion has run with. Not the same style, but very much the same tone, I find.

Moving on, Reardon was trailed as the artist who would take over from Mark Harrison for Book two of the Ten Seconders. A more different style I couldn’t imagine! Harrison is of course the master of the digital form, and he loves to load his panels with details, using bright colours, dark shadows and shiny textures to communicate all sorts. Reardon uses small but thick black lines, and lots of white space. For this job, he chose to move to fully painted, full-colour art, with spectacular results. Sadly also not very many results, presumably finding it just too burdensome a technique. But by gosh, it was gorgeous stuff.

It's still trademark Reardon, with its sparse backgrounds, deliberate use of space, and of course giant sound effects.
But it looks like a whole new thing. The power of colour, I guess.
Words by Rob Williams
I’m guessing there was no bad blood, as writer Rob Williams (not to mention editor Matt Smith) went to Reardon again for one of the most original new series to hit the prog, the Grevious Journey of Ichabod Azrael (and the dead left in his wake). It’s entirely unlike his Cabs work, while actually using many of the same underlying tricks, such as minimalist backgrounds, and careful posing.

Could there be a more definitive panel for this strip?
Context by Rob Williams

Also lots more character-based humour in his facial expressions and body language.

This is what it looks like when someone you know has just said something super racist.
Words by Rob Williams

Bringing a little Caballistics to the old West.
Words by Rob Williams
Unlike the sprawling cast of Cabs, Ichabod Azrael is all about its protagonist, who tends to remain pretty stoic and expressionless. He's also kind of scarily ugly, a neat design that Reardon brings to life. He's not meant to be a noble soul, he's kinda grubby and irredeemable. That's a big part of the story, and it's one the art gets involved in through mixing up the styles. Demons are rendered in basic pencils, the protagonists in stark inks, and the secret desires of Ichabod's mind are in crystal clear colours...  

Book 2, you see, was mostly about our 'hero' entering the meta-narrative and coloured-in world of love conquering all. Sort of. For me, Reardon's work on Book 1 feels more confident here than on Cabs, but it was mostly the same kind of stuff used to great effect. Book 2, which was almost entirely in colour, went to another level. Here's our man, not blinking under an avalanche of bloody mayhem. The full colour effect sort of disguises the 'no backgrounds' trick, with the white-but-blue background doing crazy amounts of work.


 Reardon’s effort with the palette lasted a little longer this time (8 episodes!), but apparently it’s his nemesis, as he had to bow out of completing Book 2 – and hasn’t been back since. 

What we’re left with is an amazingly consistent body of work, which happens to be on two of my all-time favourite series (Top 20 for sure). It’s not a coincidence, but it is perhaps reflective of the fact that Reardon’s style is especially well suited to the sorts of things I like, namely creepy horror and violent eschatology. Not many strips combine those themes, but he did have a crack at the cover of one of them, and jolly ripping fun it was too, what…

It's Harry Kipling! The reanimated corpse of a God-hunting retro-Brit.
No, I don't know how a megaphone gun works, either.

I guess I'll just have to wait patiently until another series comes along that has need of his particular talents.

More on Dom Reardon
A super old interview on Freaky Trigger
There’s also a dedicated Caballistics, Inc fan page if you fancy that.
And here's a sample of covers he's been doing recently for James Bond

Personal favourites:
Caballistics, Inc
The Grievous Journey of Ichabod Azrael (and the dead left in his wake)
-and the couple of episodes of Ten Seconders he painted were ace, too.


*If nothing else, this kind of pretentious drivel from me may prompt someone to go a read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics to find out more about what comics panels can do with time, space and impact.

**To my mind, it’s by far the best work he’s done for Tharg, except perhaps for some of his Dredds

***although, after reading the complete digital collection, it’s actually much more of a closed story than I remembered it being at first.