Thursday, April 26, 2018

No. 110 Nick Percival

First Prog: 872 (on the cover and the inside)
Latest Prog: 1978

First Meg: 1.18
Latest Meg: 393

Total appearances: 85

Know your enemy...
Words by Pat Mills

Creator credits:

Sleeze N Ryder
Brit Cit Brute

Other art credits:
Judge Dredd
The Dark Judges
Various one-offs (although, as it happens, not a Future Shock)

Man as vulnerable flesh-thing.
Words by Dan Abnett

Notable character creations:

Notable characteristics:
The horror! The horror! Any excuse to draw flesh and bodies, emphasising sinew, muscle and bulging veins in the living, and the gore, fragility and loose skin in the dead. Also nature, be it green trees, blue seas or raging flame. He also has something of a line in outrageously innocent-looking humans who find themselves caught up in the horror – although not many 2000AD stories feature truly innocent people.

Those ghost skulls are a thing of ethereal beauty.
Words by Pat Mills

And, not at all his fault, but Percival had the bad luck to be associated, in his early 2000AD days anyway, as an artist on some of the least-loved series, even as they covered two of the best-loved characters. Ah, the 90s.

On Nick:
Unlike various contemporaries, Percival seems to have always been a fully-painted artist at heart. Unsurprising, then, that he got his start in the wake of the ‘get me Simon Bisley!’ boom in the early 90s, doing some Dredd covers with an emphasis on Mean Machine, and eventually having a turn on Slaine.

But actually, his art has its own particular quality that isn’t like Bisley at all, and is different again from, say, early Greg Staples or Carl Critchlow. The best word I’ve got for it is ‘elemental’, in the way that old Dungeons & Dragons or Fighting Fantasy books has monsters called elementals, that took on the aspect of earth, air, fire and/or water.

Percival's warp-spasm - ligaments and veins ahoy!
Words by Pat Mills

Percival’s humans are weighed down by life, and by having bodies, and being subject to weathering. His eyes are drowning in tears ever on the verge of spilling. His forests teem with twisting, writhing branches and vines, his undead monsters expose their own frail bodies but also their malignant airy soles, and the colours he uses suck you into the page, like mud.

Where does the earth end ans the castle begin?
Words by Pat Mills

Making the Cursed Earth look genuinely 'cursed'. Even the rocky outcrops have rocky outcrops!
Words by Garth Ennis

Yes, this refers to the muddiness of the repro of his early 90s work (Judge Dredd: Goodnight Kiss and Slaine: King of Hearts being the very worst offenders). But, in recent years, where digital crispness rules, Percival still brings that muddy quality, but this time it has the effect of pulling you into the scene, getting your own feet mired down, allowing you to feel the force and sting of the situation. His track record with rain and oceans in particular is a thing to behold; in the Gyre, he made the Pacific a monster of its own to fear and respect. It’s a very particular talent that I don’t think any other 2000AD artist offers. There’s some Goya in there, too, to name drop a classical painter.
Of course, every artist starts somewhere, and, ironically enough for a painter, Percival’s first printed stories were more traditional looking. Judge Edwina’s Strange Cases was a sort of proto ‘Tales from the Black Museum’ from Volume 1 of the Megazine, designed to give new artists such as Percival a break.

Classic 2000AD-ification of Beano sensibilities; naughty boys playing with monsters.
Words by Dave Stone

It’s pretty cartoony, I can see hints of Peter Bagge in there, of all artists. But there’s also that hint of the interest in darkness and horror, especially in the layout. From here, Percival got the chance to help devise an all-new series, the much-loved Sleeze ‘N’ Ryder*, a rare original creation for 2000AD from the pen of Garth Ennis.

The way the skin is pulled taughtly over the flesh floats my boat.
Words by Garth Ennis

It’s a pretty silly story. So Percival provides art to match. But, you, know, there’s something that’s always appealed about it. The bold colours, thick outlines and general air of ridiculousness helps to set a tone of fun. Also, Percival gets to explore his delight in human musculature.

One of the few successful jokes** across this short series was the character dynamic of the two leads – both easy-going and relaxed, but one so far relaxed to the point of not really needing to speak. Not so special a dynamic in episode 1, but by episode 6 the force of repetition won me over, and it’s Percival who makes the joke work.

Sleeze is cool but not as cool as Ryder, y'see.

For whatever reason, Percival moved away from this more pen and ink style never to use it again. The move to what I think of as ‘typical’ Percival came with the next story, the fondly-remembered*** Brit-Cit Brute. 

The Brute reacts to the latest episode of Michael Fleisher's Harlem Heroes.
Words by Robbie Morrison

Lead character Judge Newt is a hulking great Brute of a man, and he may have had a personality of some sort but the short, mayhem-fuelled stories didn’t do much to explore it. Percival, at the very least, did put in the effort with the character design, and embraced the concept of being as OTT as possible in terms of violence and silliness.

You'd think there'd be something funny going on with this kind of thing. The Brute's deadpan expression works, at least.
Words by Robbie Morrison

And, of course, more work with faces to try to sell whatever jokes the script hoped existed.

Not sure what the in-story reason is here, but at least it gives Percival a chance to show off.

Naturally, this lead into a stint on Judge Dredd, who, in the mid 90s, was all about OTT silliness and desperate jokes, especially under the scripts of Mark Millar.

Child brutality, Judge-style. Seriously, there's some awesome design work going on here!
Words by Mark Millar
Percival is really going for it in the details, and it’s lavish stuff to look at, Bisley-comparisons be damned.

In contrast, Percival’s big Dredd blowout saw him teamed with Garth Ennis in rather more serious mode. He delivered his farewell epic, (well, 9 episodes) Goodnight Kiss, that tied together a couple of dangling plot threads involving the past sins of justice dept and suave assassin Jonni Kiss. Jonni Kiss creator Greg Staples may have given that character a touch of irreverence, but once he made way for Nick Percival, the humour was mostly downplayed.

The Cursed Earth Marshals: straddling the line between human, mutant and ghoul. Yes, they're outrageously rendered weirdos to look at, but there's genuine pathos in their plight.
Words by Garth Ennis

Percival poured all the ink he had into Goodnight Kiss. On its original printing, I could barely read it from panel to panel for the mud, but reprints, including the Case Files, reveal that it’s actually a) a fine story (if not quite at the John Wagner level), and b) it’s very well drawn.

In fact, it’s Percival’s art in particular that elevates the story for me. It’s unlike anything that had gone before, having a real ‘rural gothic’ feel to it, putting me in mind of such fare as Swamp Thing or Pumpkinhead. The basic story isn’t much beyond ‘Dredd + sidekick are defeated by two sets of very strong / determined / cunning villains’ – one of whom is right to hate the Judges, followed by ‘Dredd turns out to be the strongest/determindest/cunningest sunnuvabitch and wins’. Ennis injects some gruff soulsearching, leaving Percival to do the heavy lifting that almost makes you believe Dredd just might not make it back from this mission...

Can even Dredd survive crucifixion? Or the inevitable hallucination sequence to come?

On to Slaine: King of Hearts.

(pausing to acknowledge the time he helped out on a Slaine one-off with Greg Staples, although I don’t know in what capacity – painting on top of pencils at a guess:)

More sumptuous elemental work
Words by Pat Mills
As with his turn at Dredd, Percival is unfortunately tied to the least-fondly remembered period of Slaine. For the early 90s, the titular Celt was time-hopping, reliving British legends, sort of. In 'King of Hearts', it’s the turn of Scottish hero William Wallace. 

Slaine is all about the setting - the purity of nature, untroubled by man
(or at least Mills would like to assert that nature was once untouched by man)

At the time, it felt like a cheap cash-in, frankly. This strip ran in 1996, and WAS surely indebted to the 1995 film Braveheart, a film that pushed Wallace staunchly into the public consciousness if nothing else****. But, to be fair to writer Pat Mills, Wallace’s story is right up his street. He’s a classic working class hero fighting against an entitled oppressor, and in the end he gets hung, drawn and quartered! Social fury + gory death = Pat Mills heaven.

Outrageous! The English cheat at fighting using cowardly longbows.
But we can all enjoy the glorious carnage.

Kind of impressive, then, that Percival actually downplayed the visuals somewhat. The whole thing might have been a bit much if he’d really hammered home Mills’s points. Also, it really didn't help that the Prog's repro values at this time did painted work zero favours. But, as with so much of Mills's post 1990 work, it reads far better in a collected edition, and the artwork shines through, too. 

You can see Percival had come a long way since Sleeze N Ryder, but he still seemed in need of a little more development as a figure artist. And, perhaps because of bad association with disliked storylines, Percival was suddenly no more to be seen in the Prog or Meg. Or, y’know, maybe it’s that he found more lucrative work in the games and film design arena!

But he obviously likes comics and perhaps 2000AD in particular - some years later, little by little, he started to appear in the cover credits box, honing his painting talents, often delivering his unique take on some of 2000AD’s less prominent thrills.

Is now the time to bring back 2000AD's cheerful yet murderous Clown?

Haunted film reels in Chiaroscuro. It's a cracker!

Anyone remember Dead Signal? A proper slice of sci-fi action comedy headtrip weirdness

Ah, Indigo Prime! Percival is ideally suited to brain-jarring Lovecraftian horror, no?

You can't ask for more of a contrast with Brass Sun co-creator INJ Culbard!
A testament to both artists that this character looks proper cool under both styles of penmanship.

...until just a few years ago Percival returned to the Meg with a career interview that seemingly led to new work. It kicked off with a stunner of a tale about the last days of good old Mean Machine Angel. 

The pathos!

The story is clever enough to refer to various details of Mean’s past without overwriting any of them, build to a satisfying and believable resolution to the man’s story, and still leave it open for a comeback. But it’s the artwork that brings pathos along with the humour that is never far away from this most outrageous character.

The contrast of the packaging noodles with the crazy arm is hilarious.
Words by Michael Carroll

Never forget that Mean Angel is capable of hardcore violence!

Scripter Michael Carroll has since reteamed with Percival twice, making perfect use of his watery talents.

I’ll be honest, there are times when Percival’s paintbrush can obscure some details of the action on a panel. But my overall feeling is that he and his collaborators know this, and deliberately harness it. The Gyre is a case in point – it’s set on board a sort of floating collection of mega-rafts in the storm-tossed Pacific. Like Dredd, we’re supposed to feel assaulted by the salt-spray, the swirling, and the general oddness of the setting.

You can almost taste the saltiness of the rain and ocean/
Words by Michael Carroll

Then there’s Traumatown, in which Dredd suffers various hallucinations – and Percival delivers the goods in a way that stands tall alongside the likes of Mick McMahon and Brendan McCarthy, not least because his style is just so utterly different.

More glorious rain!
Words by Michael Carroll

And, perhaps inevitably, the elemental painter is hard at work on the most elemental of characters, the Dark Judges. Dominion is a direct follow-on to the Dredd story Dark Justice. So, as on Slaine decades ago, Percival finds himself picking up a baton from Greg Staples. But this time around the two couldn’t be more different. Where Staples was going for a very realistic action movie vibe, Percival is painting an all-out horror strip.***** Made easier because it’s not even slightly a Judge Dredd story. Instead, it’s about the three remaining Dark Judges landing on a colony world, with all the Aliens/The Thing closed-environment vibe that entails. Or should I say entrails.

Never before has the touch of Mortis brought quite such tangible decay...
Words by John Wagner

That’s a pun, because 'entails and 'entrails' are spelled nearly the same, but 'entrails means people’s insides, and Percival sure does draw a lot of rotting corpses in this story.

In some ways, it’s the most pure Percival strip yet, being all-out horror. There’s gore aplenty, but there’s also despair, fear, suspense and a general air of doom. I slightly wish there were more compelling characters to match all that, but this may come in book 2. Kind of a hazard of the plot, when the Dark Judges just keep killing people! And on the plus side, the whole thing manages to feel very different to Deadworld, that other total horrorshow featuring the Dark Judges (confined to cameos, thankfully).

Snow and isolation and slow-burn creeping dread.
Words by John Wagner

I don’t know what’s in store for Percival beyond Dominion, but I’d lobby for more Dredd, and maybe something untried. I know these two series won’t come back, but I could see him doing a mean Nemesis or Shakara, and maybe the Prog is ready for a new strip about vengeful alien demons…

More on Nick Percival:
His own website
His most recent Covers Uncovered

Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd: Goodnight Kiss; The Gyre; Traumatown
Sleeze ‘N’ Ryder (for the art, you understand, and the occasional one-liner, not for the story)
Tales from the Black Museum: Rising Angel
…and a whole bunch of covers.

*OK, so maybe ‘loved by a small handful’ would be more accurate.

**OK, OK, I admit it, I still laugh at President Arnie's brain in a jar, quoting his own movie dialogue in a crazy accent.

***Sorry, I meant ‘loved and lamented by literally no-one’.

****I’m not a massive fan, although I can see that it was pretty influential on Hollywood’s approach to battle epics.

*****Splitting apart the two key passions of John Carpenter's film oeuvre, I guess!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

No. 109 Glenn Fabry

First Prog: 411 (cover and interior)
Latest Prog: 2000 (cover) 1847 (interior strip) – last interiors before that Prog 858

First Meg: 1 (on the cover)
Latest Meg: 360 (also on the cover – in fact, he’s not done any interiors for the Megazine)

Total appearances: 83
-including all his covers, even the ones he did for Preacher that were re-used on the Megazine


-not including the super-cool Speedball 2 computer game promo that turned up from time to time…
Yup, that's Mr Fabry drawing the angry ball-holding man.
(and not Simon Bisley as I had previously been led to believe...)

Art credits:
Judge Dredd
Batman/Judge Dredd
One Future Shock and a one-off story for Crisis

Notable character creations:

Fabry is to scowls as mustard is to hotdogs. Necessary and perfect.
Words by Pat Mills
Notable characteristics:
Ultra-meticulous and realistically rendered people, whether in pencils or paints. Grimaces and gurns. Leather. Never letting any detail, foreground or background, go unrendered. Drawing in a way that looks like it’s really difficult to do and impossible to copy…

Words by Pat Mills.
On Glenn:
Fittingly for an artist who has gone on to international renown as a covers legend, Fabry’s first work for Tharg – that we got to see, anyway! – was on the cover of Prog 411.

Colour reproduction was not great on the original Prog or on various reprints, sadly...
Better than that, he also drew the episode of Slaine actually inside that Prog.* And it was good. So good, in fact, that he arguably ended up producing what feels – to me, at any rate – like the definitive version of the character Slaine himself. Kincaid, Belardinelli and McMahon had worked wonders with the setting and the atmosphere of muck, but apart from the spiky hair, their actual Slaines were not so distinctive to me. Fabry’s Slaine design, on the other hand, leaves a lasting impression of a tough, smug, and not all that nice brawler.

Slaine in his element

How does he do that hair??
Words by Pat Mills
 Fabry's version of Ukko, too, added a new level of both scummery and realism.

Ukko scores a kiss off Nest, and doesn't he look smug about it.
Words by Pat Mills

Time Killer, the Slaine epic that launched Fabry into the Prog, is a very particular beast. It continues Slaine’s saga of slowly going home to his tribe in Ireland after wondering around in France - while also being a massive sidetrack into a sort-of sci-fi adventure that is very clearly inspired by Dungeons & Dragons (the role-playing game, not the cartoon that I was into in a big way before discovering 2000AD).

Fabry delivers some truly excellent work exploring Slaine’s character arc through this adventure. He really nails the facial expressions. He also engages in some immaculate world-building, setting the scene for Cythrawl. In theory he has a part to play in deepening Slaine’s mythology, as Time Killer introduces a whole host of new characters and concepts that would last for years, not least among them big bad villains Elfric and the Guledig.

Elfric the glam-rock elf with 3 eyes
Words by Pat Mills
But it’s worth pointing out that Fabry’s co-artist David Pugh actually ended up doing a lot more of the episodes with these characters in, including their first appearances – which I assume means he designed those characters, too.**

Fabry did his fair share of new designs, of course! Not least the Cythrons, a whole team of sci-fi inspired villains who have troubled Slaine ever since

Attention to costume detail is the way to impress readers
Word by Pat Mills

and their reptilian minions, the Diluvials.

I like the leyser guns, alright? Especailly when they tear through bony diluvials.
Words by Pat Mills

And in fact Fabry would go on to more or less re-design a bunch of key characters, including Nest, Niamh and Medb (and Slaine's whole tribe, really).

Tomb of Terror, the follow-up saga, was basically more of the same but with even more D&D about it. 
See also Dice Man, for which Fabry provided the opening cover art:

I love how this cover is basically telling all readers that they are ugly ogres.
Also, want that dice!

Back to the world of Slaine, mucking about in dungeons...


Someone's been reading some issues of Metal Hurlant featuring the art of Phillippe Druillet.
(seriously, look him up, he's totally awesome at drawing).
But that doesn't take away from just how badass this design and execution is.

It also ended with a suitably epic warp-off between Slaine and multi-dimensional monster Grimnismal, rendered in a way that nowadays would seem like a photoshop effect, but must have actually just been amazing art skillz in 1985.

If you stare at this picture too long, you may actually start to go mad.
Threats by Pat Mills
 Fabry is quite simply a perfect fit for the character. Slaine is all about connections to the Earth; he’s gritty and mucky and doesn’t care, except in those moments when he really cares. He lives in a world full of impossible monsters and beasts, but they feel real. Fabry can do real, but crucially he can do the unreal and make it seem plausible. He also does people especially well - and ultimately, Slaine is a story about people, how they interact, and how they change.

I’m sad that David Pugh didn’t get more work after his two Slaine stories (and one Future Shock), but frankly although he was a perfect fit for that material, he wouldn’t have been right for Slaine the King. This time, Fabry was given a chunk of time to do it all himself.

When the story came out, I admired the art but found the story itself a little boring. It’s soap-opera territory, which was not my thing age 9. Looking back on it, the grins, the scowls, the double crossing, the straight-up anger, it’s stunningly gorgeous.

Kissing - not the sort of thing I wanted to read about aged 9!
Context by Pat Mills
Scheming Medb (rhymes with Niamh)
Words by Pat Mills

More scowls, more hair. It's Dynasty, Slaine style!
Words by Pat Mills

2000AD is the all-time best comic for delivering on the promise of showing horrible things;
Glenn Fabry one of that tradition's finest exponents.
Words by Pat Mills)

Too gorgeous?

Some expert painterly composition going in there, with the patent Fabry tongue firmly in the cheek.
Plus, it's a bold amount of flowers to have on the cover of a so-called boys' action comic.
Looking back on it now, it's all very Game of Thrones. If you like that show and want a comics version of it, go with Glenn Fabry's Slaine! Sadly, after chaining himself to his desk to deliver all 12 sumptuous episodes of that saga, he was somewhat broken. Fabry ended up taking the next three years to deliver a handful of pages of the ongoing Slaine storyline (and a little-seen newspaper strip spin-off, Scatha) – stunning quality, and indeed fantastic comics, but Slaine: the mini-series doesn’t half live up to its title. One suspects perfectionism was partly to blame, and it must be something of a burden for an artist to be celebrated for his realism and attention to detail. But boy, are those worth celebrating!

There's a whole mound of bodies, every single one rendered in minute detail. Mental!
Context by Pat Mills

This is ART
Words by Pat Mills

And let's not forget that he was also released from Slaine duties to tackle some other art. For example, he was hard at work painting a bunch of politically-charged covers for Crisis:

 And some rather bizarre pin-ups for the back pages of 2000AD:


Luckily for Fabry strip art fans, he had a go at a Future Shock, to try something completely different,

Excellent horror.
Words by C. Smith (not a typo for J. Smith)
and then a handful of Dredd episodes, which played up his comedy. It’s very much focussed on gurning and grimacing, often by idiots. 

Words by Alan Grant

Dredd doesn't get made to look foolish often; Fabry makes it believable.
Words by Wagner & Grant

It's irritating pest...

...vs Romanesque Dredd.
Words by Garth Ennis

Fabry really works wonders with a Dredd forced to adopt a smiling visage.

Also, more idiot citizens.
Words by Alan Grant

...which provides a neat counterpoint to the full-on snarl Fabry gives Dredd to sell the character on the cover of issue 1 of his solo comic:

"Make him scowl MORE, Fabry. More!"
By the time Fabry was ready for another series, painted comics were the thing, and naturally he had a go, and naturally he excelled. It’s back on Slaine again, only this time in Roman Britain. Good news if you like the story of Boudicca; perhaps bad news if you’re an artist who is a stickler for detail, when painting a story from an era that is brimming with historical artefacts and other reference material that you really want to get right!

More madness-inducing art.
Words by Pat Mills

Personally, I’m a fan of paintings of people getting spears and swords pushed through their bodies, so I was all happy to see Fabry maiming his way through ‘Demon Killer’, before handing the baton over to Dermot Power & Greg Staples, the painter-droids waiting hungrily in the wings. 

Of course, painting even book 1 of this latest Slaine took its time – too much to continue with. This left leaving one last big prestige job for Tharg, the Batman/Judge Dredd sequel Die Laughing. It was supposed to be a follow-up to Simon Bisley’s Judgement on Gotham, (a nice touch of baton handing and rehanding), but Fabry’s work ended up being episode 1 of part 4 in a trilogy. But I can tell you, I was pretty jazzed for a few years there in the mid 90s about seeing Glenn Fabry painting the Joker being possessed by Judge Death***.

He's got that ectoplasmy-texture of ghost-Death working really neatly.
Words by Wagner and Grant

Having fun with facial expressions
Words by Wagner and Grant
The actual story of this final team-up comic is fine, with good jokes in places, but it simply couldn't live up to the long wait, no matter how sumptuous the art. 

Since then it’s been covers all the way, with one exception in the form of a Slaine episode. Fabry’s 2000AD cover rate has been getting more frequent of late. He’s had a go at a couple of them for one of the more Slaine-like new series of recent years, Black Shuck.



Yes, it’s more real-world but unearthly stuff, with an old-world setting, so it’s not a million miles from Slaine. Kind of a shame Fabry couldn’t do the strip itself!

And speaking of old-world stuff, he produced a cracker for Western epic The Grievous Journey of Ichabod Azrael (and the Dead left in his wake).


For now, his most recent work was the outstandingly massive wraparound cover for Prog 2000 (the two thousandth prog, not the end-of-year special from 1999…). Which looks fantastic in black and white as well as in full colour – the only sad thing is that he’d clearly added all sorts of details around the edge of the image that didn’t quite fit onto the finished magazine!

Fabry’s connection to the world of Tharg, and especially Slaine and Judge Dredd, its two most successful creations**** means he’s bound to be a part of Progs to come, although one imagines it’ll be covers for the most part. The price of success!

More on Glenn Fabry:
Start at his own website
Including a handy breakdown of his career here
Or read an online interview from 2008 on Jazma
Or listen to an interview from 2013 (I think?) on the Panel Borders podcast

Personal favourites:
Slaine: Time Killer, Tomb of Terror, Slaine the King, Slaine the Miniseries
Judge Dredd: The Immortals, Talkback

and a selection of epic covers:



And, of course...


*It makes total sense to get amazing artists to draw covers for comics so readers are attracted to buy them, but I still find it to be a bit of a con when that same artist doesn’t then feature on the inside at all. Not such a sin with 2000AD, which is an anthology and hence has a mixture of art, but it bugs me on American comics no end.

**I stand to be corrected on this. I’ve a suspicion that in those days it was standard to simply pass each episode on to the designated artist and let them get on with it; nowadays a lead artist may be asked to do a whole bunch of character designs up front, which would then be circulated to all other series artists.

***This is what I assumed was going to happen; in fact, the spirit of the Joker sort of becomes a fifth Dark Judge. With spiky shoulder pads.

****I don’t have any hard facts on this, but I’m pretty sure Slaine is the strip most reprinted in collections across the world, after Judge Dredd. It might even be second on the list of ‘strips with most epsiodes’, but that’s a project for another blog.