Thursday, April 27, 2017

No. 104 Kev Hopgood

First Prog: 426  
Latest Prog: 939 (interior strip, sort of) 957 (cover art)

First Meg: 348
Latest Meg: 353

Total appearances: 87
-including the recent ‘Man from the Ministry’ creator-owned bit in the Megazine

Creator credits:
Night Zero
Dry Run

Dig the super toyetic car on the cover that is not, I believe, actually based on a toy.
Other art credits:
Judge Dredd
Harlem Heroes (new style)
A handful of Future Shocks

Notable character creations:
(I have a soft spot for Tanner’s supporting cast, too, but I wouldn’t call them notable)

Cyborg vs MACH man, and only 1 can win!
Bonus points for referencing another 80s-tastic video hit, Stallone's 'Over the Top'.
Notable characteristics:
Clean style. Angular lines. Punch-ups, dust-ups, zapping and action sequences galore. There’s a reason he went on from 2000AD to draw Iron Man* for a number of years.
He does a neat line in generic baddies wearing the 80s version of futuristic garb:

This panel is so generic I can't remember what strip its from. Judge Dredd, I think?
Words by Alan Grant, maybe?
I also love the way he draws hands and fingers, it’s a communication device in its purest form!

No one draws a finger pushing a button like Kev Hopgood. Well, maybe Carlos Ezquerra.
Words by Michael Fleisher
On Kev:
Some context here – my history as a 2000AD reader meant I followed the Prog very sporadically between 439 and 500ish, then abandoned it in favour of Whizzer & Chips for a brief period**.

I cam back to the Prog around 640ish, all of 12 years old, and proceeded to read and devour the missing period (thanks to my big brother’s stash). This included Night Zero, which at the time I thought was about the most sophisticated bit of writing ever, full of twists, surprises and that sweet, sweet noir atmosphere. This is not, I think, a commonly held opinion. But I can’t forget that feeling and will love this series till my dying day.

Even now that I see it for the cliché-fest it is.

Monologuing villain, check. Henchman with blade, check; woman in peril, check; gruff, grimacing hero, check.
Words by John Brosnan.

A HUGE part of my love for it was and remains the welcome relief provided by Kev Hopgood’s art. It made the series look grown-up, with its hard men, hard women, sultry women and Taxi Driver evoking mood. The art also allowed me to follow what was going on from panel to panel, unlike contemporary artists such as John Hicklenton (on Nemesis IX), Will Simpson (on Soft Bodies and Judge Dredd) and Simon Harrison (on the Final Solution). Frankly, Hopgood and Night Zero provided me with an island of sanity in a morass of art, ideas and creative insanity that I was not equipped to handle back then.

I do get, in hindsight, that he was dutifully filling the Burton-mandated slot of ‘stories for 12-year-olds’ – you know, the readers the Prog was originally intended for.

Such fun!
This could be Brosnan, but it has the ring of Fleisher
And poor old Hopgood continued to shoulder this burden, with two more adventures for Tanner and the crew of Zero city, with stand-alone adventure series Dry Run, and of course Harlem Heroes. Hopgood gamely finished off series 1, and pencilled a second series that was shelved for years before Tharg decided it’d be fun to get Siku to paint on top of it and make it so over the top readers couldn’t fail to see the joke.

OK, that’s the context, what about the art itself? Personally speaking, much as I can understand why readers and fans don’t express much love for the stories Hopgood worked on, the way he drew them was a) exactly appropriate for the strips, and b) really bloody good.

Like many an artist, he began with some Future Shocks that gave him a chance to develop his style.***

This very early effort has a real classic comics feel to it, matching the tone of the story.
Words by Peter Milligan

This one has a hint of Alan Davis, a master worth drawing on!
Words by G. Bell

Ah, the joys of the Commodore 64 and its chunky joystick.
Words by Alex Stewart
Night Zero was the brainchild of the late John Brosnan, then 2000AD’s resident film critic, and I think a buddy of Alan McKenzie from his Sci-Fi/movie magazine days. It’s a sci-fi noir that trades in action movie and thriller clichés, while deliberately subverting them. Brosnan’s big thing was about having women who appeared to conform to a stereotype, only to then be different, only to then revert to type again, sort of.

Trapped in the middle is Tanner, an ex-soldier turned cab driver who basically doesn’t give a crap about anything around him, but is a decent enough guy that he’ll help someone who’s in a jam. With a robot arm that shoots lasers. Your typical 2000AD hero, in other words. I lover Tanner.

This is almost fully-formed Hopgood - but he's experimenting with a lusher style.
Words by John Brosnan
Hopgood fleshes out the world, designing a combat-proof taxi and some smoky mean streets, and a fashion sense right out of 1980s action movies. The cheap kind, like Death Wish 3 or Class of 1999 what have you. 

No, we haven't lost the balloons, it's just a well-executed wordless sequence.
The wisps of smoke and flashing lights on the buildings are ace.
Context by John Brosnan

Tanner wears a vest and a sleeveless jacket (to show off his arms). Femme fatale (or is she?) Alanna wears a slinky dress under a trench coat. Evil crime Lord (or is he?) Mr Nemo wears a dressing gown. And then there’s Dolly, who is either a laudable example of an under-represented group, or else an insanely backward cliche of a butch lesbian. You decide!

Dolly is actually a laugh across three series.
Words by John Brosnan

The silliness continues for two more stories. Beyond Zero introduces a feminist robot and a daftly stupid action man, both proving good for some chuckles.

Beyond Zero saw Hopgood pare back his style, focussing on the dynamism. And the gunshots.
Words by John Brosnan
And of course, a cover for the ages: 

There's that car again!
The strip ended up in full colour in Below Zero. For some reason this final outing seems to be much hated. Yes, it’s kind of a ‘virtual reality prison’ story writ large, and yes, there are parts of this basic setting that reminded readers of Total Recall (then a recent hit movie). But I remember not being bothered by that and enjoying it. Of course Hopgood’s art is just getting better and better by this point, and the switch to colour makes a lot of sense given the virtual reality angle.

This is some lush cartooning right here. It also has some serious 60s/70s John Burns vibes going for it, that
match the content of the virtual reality setting in this scene.
Words by John Brosnan

Whereas this scene is 100% 1980s. With bonus expressive hand!
Words by John Brosnan

Backpeddling to Dry Run, well, there’s a long-lost series I won’t defend. Its main problem is that it’s boring. It’s the future, and Earth is all dried up, so water is a precious commodity, and most of the world is barren desert where the oceans used to be. People roam around in Mad Maxish gangs, only with less fetish wear. Our heroes are one such gang, who share a psychic report. Nice ingredients, could be fun.

See, the ingredients are there, and Hopgood nails the cinematic feel of establishing shot, group shot,
villain reveal. It just kind of went nowhere.
Words by Tise Vahimagi
20 years later under Dan Abnett and Richard Elson, Kingdom WAS a lot of fun, and it’s not a million miles away in the sort of story it’s telling. But Dry Run, written by Tise Vahimage****, couldn’t quite find the angles to keep the story dramatic and thrilling beyond, well, the cover that set it up...

Skulls, swords, horses, deserts, oil refineries - such high hopes!
 Hopgood does his 80s action thing with the designs and they’re find and all, but overall the whole thing felt a little too functional.

Irena provides about the only excitement - which man will she choose? Whose side is she on?
What effect will she have on the gang's psychic bond?
Are questions that readers are almost moved to ask.
Words by Tise Vahimagi.
After seeing out the end of Harlem Heroes, the interminable first series, Harlem Heroes: Cyborg Death Trip provded an interesting experiment in ‘spot the artist’, (with Siku at first colouring over Hopgood's basically finished art, then later going nuts with the paint) but is hard to take seriously as a story. I will say that Hopgood maintained his appeal to my inner 12-year old Sci-Fi action comics fan. And he got to add two new members to the cast who are right out of The Running Man era of hard-nosed but noble-minded thugs.

Words by Michael Fleisher
And that would have been the end, if Gordon Rennie hadn’t plucked Hopgood out of nowhere – or away from Doctor Who comics, at any rate - as the perfect artist to render one of his more recent slices of Brit TV nostalgia, Man from the Ministry. Lots of shiny metal corridors, people wearing sharp suits, and a story driven by relentless action from panel to panel that needs the clear storytelling skills of a Hopgood to work as well as it does.

Hopgood has refined his style even more, losing none of the dynamism.
Words by Gordon Rennie
Here to serve your thickly-creased clothing needs.
Words by Gordon Rennie
Let's round off with a handful of covers, which never do less than sell the promise of action galore for the pages inside, ideally with a side of hot metal death...




More on Kev Hopgood:
His blog:
An interview about his time on Iron Man
and indeed a YouTube clip about War Machine
Not much online about his 2000AD days, sadly. You'll have to dig out Megazine 350!


Personal favourites:
Night Zero, Beyond Zero and, yes, Below Zero.
Man from the Ministry

*He even designed War Machine – the armoured version, that is, not Jim Rhodes the long-standing character who fits inside the armour. But it's given him an international superhero legacy to match another 2000AD alumnus with a Marvel hit on his hands, Mike Collins.

**My favourite character from that time may have been Watford Gapp, the King of Rap, who I suspect is at the very bottom of Rebellion’s ‘reprint this now!’ list.

***And I guess he honed his skills over in Marvel UK, where he drew the much-forgotten toy tie-in Zoids, scripted by Mr. Grant Morrison. I am exactly the right age to remember and have liked zoids as toys. They’re basically robot skeleton animals that you build yourself like easy mechano, given a sort of Transformers-ish narrative to fight in. Hopgood was a natural fit.

****A fellow Starburst contributor and friend of Brosnan’s, mostly known I believe for his writing about TV and film rather than stories. Starburst has a touching tribute to the writer, who passed away in 2013. (Turns out he's Welsh, which I'd not have guessed from the name, but I am very ignorant.)
While I’m at it, here’s a piece about John Brosnan’s funeral, in 2005. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

No. 103 Alec Worley

First Prog: 1560  
Latest Prog: 1957, but more recently the 2016 Free Comic Book Day comic, and the Sci-Fi Special, too

First Meg: 315 (actual strip)
Latest Meg: 380

Total appearances: 87
-not including his film reviews, or his text stories, e.g. the Judge Anderson novel: Year One (on sale now!)
Dredd contends with angry fanboys
Art by Eric Powell

Creator credits:
Age of the Wolf
Realm of the Damned

Other writing credits:
Judge Dredd
Anderson (movie version)
various one offs

Notable character creations:
Rowan Morrigan

Art by Warren Pleece

Notable characteristics:
Broadly speaking, horror and comedy, both together but more often separately. 

HORROR, I tell you.
Art by Ben Willsher
And, within horror, he has apenchant for the creepy gets-literally-under-your-skin type of body horror grue. Possibly as a direct result of being a film critic, Worley more obviously than most seems to make a point of setting up clichés and then subverting them. Which is not the same as twisty plotting. 

On Alec:
One imagines every writer who has worked for 2000AD has a background in something that isn’t simply writing SF/fantasy/adventure stories, whether in comics or prose. So I don’t tend to bring it up. But I can’t not with Worley, as he spent many years as a regular name in the Megazine, being the monthly film reviewer. And boy, were there endless debates about whether the Megazine should even run film reviews at all. My answer was always, sure, why not? And Worley’s reviews, in particular, I found insightful and fun to read.* And, mostly, his tastes seemed to align with my own, meaning I was pre-disposed to want to like his comic strips when they first started appearing, in the usual Future Shock, Terror Tale, Tales from the Black Museum slot.

I also mention it because two of the long-form stories Worley has contributed – Age of the Wolf and Dandridge – are both steeped in film, and my reading of both is that they make a point of zigging when the sorts of films they were inspired by would zag.

Also, and I’ll be honest here, I don’t have a hell of a lot else to say. I think Worley’s one-off tales have consistently been great, especially his occasional Dredds and Anderson work, and that his long-form stuff has been fascinating, well-worth re-reading, and shows signs of getting better each time.

Here’s a sample of his short stories:

Art by P J Holden

Art by Staz Johnson

Art by Joel Carpenter

Art by Paul Davidson

Art by Neil Roberts

Art by Anthony Williams

Worley’s 3riller, Six Brothers, is a particular standout. It’s intricately plotted, and has an inherently clever device of retelling the same story form the point of view of three different characters (read it to understand why 'Six Brothers' is a clever name) across each episode, an ideal use of the 3riller format. Having Michael Dowling on art duty for a supernatural noir doesn’t hurt, either.

Capturing a moment in time, three times over.
Art by Michael Dowling
An early Past Imperfect had introduced Dandrige, a super-charming ghost-hunter who is himself a ghost. I’m never sure whether these one-offs that get converted into series were conceived that way, or if Worley genuinely hit upon a character that Tharg liked enough to ask for an expansion on.

Can't go wrong with a comedy series based around an irrepressible idiot
Art by Jon Davis-Hunt 

Dandridge proved witty and clever enough to merit a few short series, but evidently not enough to keep going – but for a while there it was one of those rare 2000AD strips, a reliable daft comedy – perhaps the first really successful one since Ace Trucking finished? It’s in the mix of plotting with charming characters, including a straight-man to keep the comedy flowing: Shelley, a Frankenstein’s monster version of the poet who helped inspire the original Frankenstein.

Art by Warren Pleece
If nothing else, the arrogance of Dandrige coupled with the escalating silliness of the plots surely helped win Worley the chance to script some RoboHunter, and I’ll be damned if he hasn’t come the closest yet to recapturing the lunacy of the Wagner/Grant heyday. I wonder if he’d dare to try a multi-parter on that one day?

Slade copes with automated phone bots. Simple, genius!
Art by Mark Simmons

Political droids! More please.
Art by Mark Simmons
Age of the Wolf, which actually began before Dandrige, couldn’t be more different. I don’t know if it was conceived as a trilogy originally, but in lots of ways it’s the overall trilogy arc that lingers in the mind, and makes it a series well worth reading (or re-reading). I’ll confess that week to week, I couldn’t always keep up with what was going on, partly because of the relentless flow of characters and ideas, but also because of Worley’s deliberate overturning of various tropes, which mean you really do have to pay attention!

Heroes in this story can both cry and make their own rules.
Art by Jon Davis-Hunt

Let’s have a look at the film stuff first. On the trilogy thing, it kind of mirrors Mad Max. Book 1 is very much during the apocalypse. Book 2 is post-apocalypse, but only a little bit (and has a hilarious specific call-back to The Road Warrior).

Yeah, the spikes and pads look only works if you own it
Art by Jon Davis-Hunt
Then Book 3 is way, way down the line, when the apocalypse has given way to what amounts to a whole new society. We can only hope that Worley and David-Hunt return in 15 years with an epic Werewolf chase movie complete with flame-spewing guitar.

Of course as it’s about werewolves, you’d expect a certain amount of werewolf movie referencing. Subverting expectations #1: Worley does very little of this. In fact, the only callback I could easily spot is having a scene set on the London Underground, as in An American Werewolf in London.**

Instead, Worley’s script in book 1 reads a lot like a zombie movie, especially 28 Days Later, with a hint of Dawn of the Dead (the bravura opening sequence of the remake version, especially).

Let’s crack into the story itself. I’ll be honest, I don’t fully understand it. There’s some kind of ancient prophecy/curse that means the Full Moon appears in the sky and then never leaves, setting off a Werewolf plague, or whatever you want to call it. Awesome premise!

Our hero, Rowan Morrigan, has visions of her long-dead grandmother explaining that she is destined to break this curse – although in doing so she must kill herself. Basically the rest of Book 1 is all about subverting this trope. Rowan is determined a) to help break the curse, but b) not to have to sacrifice herself, or anyone else, along the way. Much of it is achieved by her discovering an ability to perform magic by drawing runes that bestow various powers, such as immunity to the werewolf bite.

Rowan also tries very hard to keep up a flow of sarcasm which lightens the weirdly serious mood (for a comic about a plague of werewolves, it is oddly serious).

In a way that I don’t entirely understand, she manages to fail and succeed in every way possible. She does break the curse, but has to sacrifice someone else. She also dies (I think), but sets up a cheat that immediately brings her back to life. And for some reasons, the wolves still linger around, but the basic apocalypse is over.

So full marks to Worley for managing the unexpected, but I felt I needed a little more help. More of the same ensues in Books 2 and 3, in which Rowan pits herself against first an evil human-clan matriarch,

and then an evil wolf-clan matriarch:

And manages to succeed in ways the reader will struggle to predict, but sometimes also to understand…

Luckily, Worley fills each episode with plenty of opportunities for Jon Davis-Hunt to do his crazy thing with slavering beasts, gore and action beats.


You’ll notice it’s all women in leading roles all the time here, which is to be much applauded. We also get a prominent Muslim character (in book 2), who finds himself in a major quandary when Rowan wants to tattoo him with a protective rune, but he refuses on religious grounds.


By the time that epic trilogy was over, Worley generally seemed more confident with his one-off work, especially on Dredd and the like. More than most post-Wagner/Grant writers, he seems to nail those stories that pick up on a hapless citizen and follows them around before they have a brief encounter with the Judge himself.

Even without the full context I find this hilarious
Art by Karl Richardson
His Anderson: the Deep End was great, too, showing a lot of character work as opposed to tricsky plotting and banter. More than the Dredd sequels, this one makes me want a sequel, or at least a TV show spin-off, perhaps one that doesn’t need Dredd himself in it as an actual character, more a legendary figure…


Which leaves us with Realm of the Damned, a series that was never intended for Tharg but ended up in the Megazine anyway, causing the biggest letters column furore since Nixon and Sloano.

Because of all the swearing, you understand, and perhaps a little bit for the nudity, but not because of the extremely extreme gore. The extremes of all these things are, for me, the entire point. Realm of the Dmaned starts from a ludicrous premise – what if death metal music was in fact a documentary, describing real demons and the effect they have/would have on the world if unleashed?

Well, the answer is that there’d be lots of horrible demons / vampires / gods running/flying around generally biting off each other’s heads and pissing down each other’s throats. Mostly while being naked.

If there is some gentle mocking in this tale, it's of the few people who might actually really want this stuff to be real
Art by Pye Parr
And yes, seeing some of this stuff rendered as comics can be pretty shocking, and I’ll admit I’m the sort of reader who enjoys the jolt of a good shock now and then. Beyond the shocks, there’s yet more of Worley setting up characters and clichés that he deliberately doesn’t pay off in the way you might predict – but again sometimes with the impact that it’s a little harder to get into the story.

I’m super excited to see what he does next. Let’s not forget, at this point every major strip Worley has written for Tharg has been bound up and sold as a proper book-sized collection, which is no mean feat!

At this point, Worley basically owns Werewolves
Art by Pye Parr

More on Alec Worley:
Here's his website 
Which includes a neat blog, including an essay on the five types of twist ending
And he was on the second of half of a recent ThrillCast episode

Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd: Duty Calls, That extra mile
Dandrige: good clean fun from start to finish
Age of the Wolf: I like bits of all of it, but probably Book 1 is the best
RoboHunter: The Droid Dilemma, The Bodj Job
Anderson: the Deep End
3rillers: Six Brothers
Realm of the Damned

*Previous incumbent Si Spurrier had sort-of written film reviews, but they tended to be long-form rants about just one film or style; follow-up reviewers I think have had to contend too much with the whole question of whether their place inn the Megazine was valid.

**This could in itself be a meta-reference to the fact that there has only ever been one werewolf movie actually worth making a reference to. All the others are either terrible or at least not-well liked. The one exception being Ginger Snaps, which only about 12 people have seen. We all recommend it heartily, though!