Tuesday, July 24, 2018

No. 117 David Roach

First Prog: 558
Latest Prog: 2080

First Meg: 2.08 (aka issue 28)
Latest Meg: 327

Total appearances: 76
-including a bunch of inking credits

Art credits:
Judge Dredd
Nemesis the Warlock
Anderson, Psi Division
A couple of one-offs
-and inking duties on Killer, Rogue Trooper and Synnamon

Notable character creations:
Judge Corey

Notable characteristics:
Dude likes drawing long-legged ladies, sometimes in what you might call sexy poses. Many of which one feels were photo-referenced. To be fair, he has toned that side of his work way down in recent years, and has become noteworthy, in my eyes anyway, as one of those artists who really goes to town on loading up the backgrounds with all sorts of meticulously-rendered details. It really makes his recent strip work shine!

Scantily clad ladies fighting? Call Mr. Roach! Bonus point, mind, for the hilarious knee and arm pads, and for that cool black line effect to show facial impact on the ground.
Words by Alan Grant

He’s also improved his action panels, so they have more flow and a little less of a stilted look that marked his early work.

Roach possesses one heck of a brushstroke, put to good use as an inker for a while, with some really lush lines that can hug a curve and also mark out a straight-edged piece of machinery.

Roach fleshing out pencils by Staz Johnson
Words by Gordon Rennie

On David:
Way back in the early days of 2000AD, 1977 and all that, Pat Mills and Co have remarked on the influence of a certain French comic on the look and feel on the Galaxy’s Greatest. We’re talking Metal Hurlant, or ‘Heavy Metal’, in its translated version. That comic was notable for some seriously cool artists, who delivered astonishingly imaginative and downright weird Sci-Fi and Fantasy worlds. Which 2000AD absolutely embraced right from Prog 1. Metal Hurlant also delivered topless ladies with a fair amount of frequency, which 2000AD did not deliver until somewhere around Prog 1066.*

What’s all this got to do with David Roach? Well… for better and for worse, Mr Roach is indelibly associated, in his early 2000AD work at any rate, with what has been called ‘good girl’ art. Or, to put it another way, drawing strips that lean heavily on the female characters but with the male gaze in full force. Roach didn’t actually show any topless ladies at this time, but he didn’t shy away from using some, shall we say, specific, poses.

Purity tackles a Terminator
Words by Pat Mills

Anderson enjoys bantz with a fellow judge while, er, relaxing on her lawmaster
words by Alan Grant

Anderson and Corey get dressed for work
Words by Alan Grant
Now, this kind of thing is not all he’s done, by any means, but it’s such a glaring feature that I have to lead with it. I don’t know what then-editor Richard Burton was thinking, but he clearly wanted it and asked for it. To be honest, it’s kind of in line with the late 80s style of 2000AD that aimed to appeal to a more grown up readership – and what’s more grown up than a comic with sexy ladies in?**

Certainly I saw Roach’s art as being ‘for grown-ups’. It’s not just the long-legs and twisting torsos – it’s his meticulous rendering of people. It’s the kind of art that looks really difficult to do, frankly, and can be super impressive, even as it occasionally struggles to have that quality of movement that action comics often need, and, especially in the early days, when he put so much effort into the people there wasn’t always time to do much in the background. Overall, Roach felt like a new direction for 2000AD art, finally embracing the sexy side of that old Euro-comics influence. It’s not a million miles from Glenn Fabry, just put to very particular use. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of sexiness.***

Gratuitous shower scene alert!
Words by Alan Grant

Right, that’s enough of that, not least because I don’t want to denigrate Roach, an excellent artist. Let’s not forget, he was alternating art duties on Nemesis with the mighty John Hicklenton, and on Anderson with the even mightier (your mileage may vary on that) Arthur Ranson. To an extent, his Nemesis work was an intense example of learning on the job, although with flashes of greatness, but he'd pretty much got good enough to hold his own even with the likes of Ranson on his Anderson work. No mean feat!
Much like Redondo on Nemesis Book II, Roach’s Book 8 of Nemesis provided a bit of a breathing space between slices of extreme weirdness. Purity’s Story is a mostly a flashback to a setting shortly before the events of Nemesis Book I, with occasional interludes of Purity and Nemesis in the ‘present’ day. And it’s pretty straightforward stuff, with young Purity pretending to be in love with Torquemada in order to spy on him. Roach’s style delivers all this very clearly, bringing Purity to life as a person, fleshing out the rather simple goody freedom-fighter character that she had been before.

Up close and personal with Purity Brown
Words by Pat Mills

Artwise, 10/10 for Purity and the deeply horrible alien outfit; 5/10 for Torquemada looking fidgety in the background.
Words by Pat Mills

He also renders the nightmare world of Termite as a scary place, with the haunt of  thought police everywhere, and the desolate atmosphere of smooth, metallic tube walls with no greenery or anything organic around.

Bringing the backgrounds to life this time!
Words by Pat Mills

Roach's Nemesis, in close-up at least, is at his most overtly evil.

Nemesis has always, kind of, been the actual devil. Rarely has the sentiment behind this been so visually explicit.
Words by Pat Mills

Pretty soon after he was a regular on Anderson, Psi Division, alternating with Arthur Ranson and playing around with a couple of different styles, depending on whether he got the colour pages or not, and just generally getting better as an action strip artist with each new story, as with so many 2000AD greats. The Prophet is fine and all, but you can sort of tell Roach at this time was far happier working in black and white.

This scan taken from the greyscale repro in Anderson Psi Files Vol. 1
In some ways, this shows off even better the ultra early 90s baddie design, complete with robot motif, blades and saws!
Words by Alan Grant

Helios, the story that introduces Empath Judge Corey, was classic black and white, at the time a better fit.

Cass 'n Corey bop their troubles away, in an example of Roach using his affinity for drawing pretty ladies to enhance the emotion and tone of a scene.
Words by Alan Grant

I do especially admire the thing he does where, when showing faces in close-up, he renders them in a super-detailed portrait-study style. It’s kind of the opposite of cartooning, but because he uses the style sparingly, it has a cartoonish effect of making a panel really stand out emotionally.

Panel 1: H'mm. Not sure you'd do that if it were Joe Dredd, hey? Panel 2: using portrait power to full effect!
Words, and, just maybe, detailed panel descriptions by Alan Grant

It's as if he's drawn every bristle on the beard. Masterful.
Words by Alan Grant

I don’t think it’s controversial to say that Roach built up to a peak with Engram, a story that he co-plotted with Alan Grant. Sadly that story had to be split into two parts, with part 1 ending on a hell of a cliffhanger, and a part 2 that didn’t run for more than a year,

One of my all-time favourite and indeed most memorable panels from 2000AD.
It's so grimy and upsetting, amazing work with shadows and texture and geometrical arrangement.
Truly haunting. 

The wait was interminable, I can tell you! And I fear this wait slightly took the shine off that story. Briefly, it all kicks off when Cass runs a crazy-powerful psi-baby in the Cursed Earth. This baby unlocks some Psi-blocks hidden inside our Cass’s mind, which temporarily drives her insane, land ultimately leads her to learn some dark truths about her pre-Judge childhood days, and a level of manipulation by Justice Dept to hide them from her.

Roach's use of models and/or photos really pays off when drawing children, so rarely done right in 'grown up' comics for some reason.
Words by Alan Grant

On the one hand, it’s classic early 90s ‘comics are all grown up and miserable now’ stuff. On the other hand, it’s actually a well-told story, with most of the emphasis on how sinister Justice Dept is, very much drawn out in Roach’s meticulous artwork.

But just as Engram finished, Anderson moved over to the Megazine, and Roach disappeared from 2000AD for some years, returning as an inker, for the most part.
(And indeed he’s devoted quite a proportion of his career to inking duties in the world of Doctor Who).

Roach brings his nib/brush talents to work on Staz Johnson's kinetic pencils.
Words by Steve Moore

Perhaps inevitably, his return to full pencil duties was yet another sexy lady series, Synnamon. And yes, there are more legs. But there’s also a lot of attention to the expressions of the characters and the general tone of mistrust / spyworld shenanigans baked into that series.

Synnamon: never knowingly under-boobed.
Words by Colin Clayton & Chris Dows

Synnamon also delivers some hard-hitting emotions, too.
Words by Clayton and Dows

Since then, Roach generally pulls out a new Dredd one-off every year or so, mixing up action with comedy and tragedy ably. And, occasionally, fleshing out the backgrounds to an almost Chris Weston like level of detail.

Well worth the wait to get this kind of sumptuousness!

Reining in the catfight temptations to deliver simple action beats.
Words by Alan Grant

At ease with western trappings
Words by Michael Carroll

Equally happy delivering poingancy with a touch of horror
Words by Michael Carroll

And some good old silly comedy, too.
Words by Al Ewing

Also the odd one-off here and there, typically making use of Roach’s skill with a portrait.

This story is literally called 'Warts and all'. Roach doesn't shy away!
Words by Si Spurrier
and also tapping into Roach's sort-of status as an old-school artist. For all that I lumped him in with the shock of the new in the late 80s, he's actually a rather classical illustrator, very much able to capture the swoosh of 1970s girls' comics, if that's what the story demands.

Focussing on the emotion to tell the story. Also note the aptness of a story's very title forcing the imagery to focus on a leading ladies back, not her front!
Words by Alec Worley

Channeling 1977 era Dredd for a 'Lost Case'
Words by Arthur Wyatt

A long-time reliable artist, Roach kind of took everyone by surprise when, for the Prog 2000 anniversary spectacular, he emerged as the fan’s favourite on a long overdue return to Anderson, Psi Division. He put together a genuinely excellent fight sequence between Anderson and Death,

Roach out-Bollands Bolland, and delivers one of the very best Anderson triumphs. Cathartic!
Words by Alan Grant
and absolutely won the right to return as a series regular artist, where he’s really pulling out all the stops!

Super detailed faces and hair, coupled with mind-blowing cityscapes.
Words by Emma Beeby

So much beautiful detail on display in the set dressing, the textures, and an unreproachably posed sexy lady to boot.
Words by Emma Beeby

More on David Roach:
Outside of his role as a 2000AD/Megazine artist, David Roach is something of a legend in the world of comics history. He’s written/edited/contributed to a whole raft of books on comics, including superheroes, war comics and a certain long-legged sexy lady vampire. Check out his ‘books’ page:

But perhaps of greater interest of readers of this blog he’s worked on the important project of identifying and celebrating the uncredited creators of British comics, especially the Spanish artists who found work through IPC:

and indeed he’s still working hard to get credits for the creators of many girls comics:

Check out the rest of his website, too!

Seems like there ought to be some interviews somewhere talking about his actual artwork, though, especially the Anderson stuff.

Personal favourites:
Nemesis the Warlock: Purity’s Story
Anderson, Psi Division:  Engram; A Dream of Death
Judge Dredd: A whole New Dredd; Inversion; Witch’s Promise
Synnamon:  Arc of Light
Tales from the Black Museum: Girl with the Gila Munja Tattoo

*If someone wants to chart a history of all the nudity in 2000AD, they are most welcome. I’m just picking on the ‘Sex Prog’ because it’s an easy target. In fact there had been boobs (and a whole lot of wang) before that, and plenty of both since, too.

**This is sarcasm. But also not?

***Although it is best if it manages to either not objectify people, or at least objectify people of multiple body types and genders.


  1. The guy can draw, that's a fact.

  2. I think 'Ant Wars' is usually credited as introducing (female) nipples to 2000AD though this might just be misinterpreted art. The first unambiguous ones belong to Medb in The Horned God Book II.

  3. Also 'The Prophet' was originally published in black and white, not colour, so what you get in the Psi Files is pretty much as is (it looks like it's a b/w wash effect rather than greyscale). I believe Carlos Ezquerra's 'The Random Man' is the only story in that volume to get greyscaled.