Thursday, September 20, 2018

No. 120 T.C. Eglington

First Prog: 1712
Latest Prog: 2099

First Meg: 331
Latest Meg: 400

Total appearances: 78

Creator credits:

3-D printed tentacle death-limbs! Awesome.
Art by Karl Richardson
Other writing credits:
Judge Dredd
Various one-offs and 3rillers - in fact, Eglington must be one of the few people to have written a Future Shock, a Time Twister, a Terror Tale AND a Past Imperfect.

Notable character creations:
Carcer and Caul, the key players in Outlier
The Gunheadz
The Sons of Booth

Notable characteristics:
Although Eglington’s work has been a fairly regular feature of the Prog and Meg for a good 5 years now, and although it covers 2 recurring series, I’ll be damned if I’m able to pinpoint any obvious stylistic tics or thematic concerns beyond ‘he writes the sort of stories and scripts that fit into the 2000AD aesthetic’.

Yes, it's funny and clever in a 2000AD fashion
Art by John McCrea

I get the vaguest sense that there’s something of an emphasis on characters who are, not quite outsiders, but people within a system but who feel like outsiders, and yearn to find a place they truly belong. This is of course a pretty major theme in much of the history of literature, but I would say TC does it more often, and perhaps more delicately, than many other 2000AD creators.

What’s particularly noteworthy is that he explores this theme both from the more typical viewpoint of the ‘goodie’ who doesn’t fit in (e.g. Blunt), and the baddie who doesn’t fit in (e.g., the creator of Gunheadz, the Sons of Booth, and to varying levels, everyone in Outlier).

Kelvin and Wendell - an outsider and his imaginary outsider.
Art by Darren Douglas

Based on his work with Boo Cook and Karl Richardson, I’d also say Eglington comes across as a very generous collaborator, who gets as much from his artists as he gives them.

On TC:
As said, Tom ‘The Egg’ Eglington* is something of a new kid on the block, certainly when it comes to clocking up an impressive and ongoing Progcount! As far as I know he’s done it the hard way – a steady barrage of Future Shock submissions that one assumes got better and better until Tharg said yes, and then showed enough promise in print to get him longer stories and, most prestigious of all, a rotating slot on Judge Dredd.

Simple Dredd: grim and quippy
Art by Karl Richardson

But what does the reader get from an Eglington story?

Art by Steve Yeowell

Art by John Charles

Art by Riccardo Burchielli

Art by Antonio Fuso

Art by Darren Douglas

Basically, a neat mixture of jolly japes, crazed weirdoes, and fun things for artists to draw - not least some of the old ultravi. With an occasional hint at poignancy.

Art by Nick Dyer

When Future Shocks aren’t enough to give an idea and a cast of characters some growing room, you need a 3riller. For my money, Eglington’s first try at the format, Gunheadz, is the best we’ve ever had. Talk about your outsiders! Our protagonist is the ultimate comics insider – a comics fan who spends his time hunting down back issues. But he’s kind of an outsider as his big thing is obscure British comics from the 50s, especially the rather childish war mutant strip 'Gunheadz'. Which turns out to be the creation of outsider number 2, reclusive comics creator, 

Eglington dialogue is both awash with sarcasm and people complaining about sarcasm. Kinda refreshing to get both, ya know?
Art by Boo Cook

who in turns is revealed not to be a creative genius, but rather the curator of a horrible secret – the mutant characters from his 'story' gunheadz are actually real!

A showcase for artist Boo Cook, but the seed of genius is in Eglington's idea!
It’s a proper self-contained story, too – the only shame is that means I can’t see how it could return for a longer series, more’s the pity. Such an inventive idea, and the styles used for both the retro comics and the present-day narrative are brilliant.

Meanwhile, Eglington got on with the business of writing dependable one-off Judge Dredd episodes. Rather like his Future Shocks, it’s a mix of crazed weirdoes, nastiness, and a general sense of fun.

Art by Boo Cook

Art by Paul Marshall

Art by Brendan McCarthy

One of his first longer stories, Prey, was a bit more of a serious action thriller, and saw him team up with artist Karl Richardson. It's a prime example of Edgington as ideas man - he's got a whacked-out Sci-Fi concept and by Grud he's going to find a way to get it into his stories, building up to the money shot of some crazed monster or other.

Present-day science... pushed into a futureworld extreme!
Art by Karl Richardson

Now, to be sure, John Wagner and Alan Grant have written plenty of high octane action Dredds, but it seems to be a genre that many Dredd writers of late have shied away from, preferring to keep the humour front and centre (Eglington not least among them!). So points to him for trying.

No science is too extreme to affect Judge Dredd!
Art by Karl Richardson
This leads into Outlier, Eglington and Richardson’s three-book epic. And it's 100% an ideas story, but you can see Eglington working on character development  - perhaps working on it a bit too hard? Outlier has lots of greatness in it, but it does get a bit muddled up along the way. It started as a murder mystery…

Turned into a character study…

And ended up as a rather imaginative human vs alien interstellar war. With a killer ending.

Art on all of Outlier by Karl Richardson
In particular, it’s about the two leads, Carcer and Caul, and the different connections they have to the alien race that more or less controls both of them. That theme of outsiders again, you see. It’s in the name of the damn strip!

Outlier or Out-Liar?
Art still by Karl Richardson
Along the way, Eglington introduced so many characters it was at first hard to keep track. He tried very hard not to just have a hyper-competent hero surrounded by idiots, but in doing so for me erred a little too much on the side of making everyone an asshole. And he overdid the grimacing quotient. Even Caul, Carcer's opposite number, couldn't escape the trouble. On the one hand, he's a super-unusual action comic character, by design kind of a selfish whiny loser, but on the other hand, he was even more of an asshole than everyone else! Overall, it at least allowed for plenty of sardonic banter between pretty much everyone, and Eglignton's very good at that.

By the end of the series, Richardson is just giving everyone sarcastic faces. 
Outlier is definitely one of those strips that rewards repeat reading, and indeed reading in chunks. There are plenty of subtle points about identity and loyalty, and that classic Sci-Fi question of the needs of the one vs the needs of the many – only here explored more from a ‘people are all pretty selfish’ view, rather than the more lovey-dovey Star Trek version. As I said, Eglington is a strong ideas man, and Outlier has plenty of grand ideas.

On then to Blunt, another ongoing effort from Eglington (Book 2 has literally just started as I write this!). We have two levels of outsider again here. There’s the titular Blunt, half-human half-apelike Uplift - basically a monster with a heart of gold – or at least a heart of some kind. And there’s our protagonist, teen rebel Ilya (the classic outsider hero), who wants to prove herself within the society of colonists stuck on an alien deathworld.

More 2000ADish ideas wrapped in sardonic banter.
Art by Boo Cook

Ilya realises that humans aren't all that.
Art by Boo Cook
(dreadful camera flash by me)

To Eglington’s credit, the focus of the strip is always on character, and less on the various planetary dangers that lurk around every corner. Still quite plotty and incident-filled, but he manages to make Blunt about the two leads more than about a situation, which keeps it compelling. Mind, it is the situation of the crazy colony-world and the threat of invasion that makes the story be an actual story, and a showcase for Eglington’s fevered imagination. But it's the characters that make me look forward to each new episode.

Meanwhile, back in Mega City One, it’s Eglington who has been working the hardest of late to do that thing Dredd does so well – point a finger at political trends in the real world. His ongoing ‘Sons of Booth’ storyline couldn’t be more pointed if it tried – but it also 100% feels part of the ongoing saga of Mega City One dissatisfaction.

You think this story is about mad geniuses playing with guns -
but really it's about contemporary right-wing dissatisfaction.
Art by Staz Johnson
Yes, it’s more outsiders who aren’t really outsiders. The disenfranchised white men who are sad about their privilege that is, slowly, being eroded.** If Booth has become, by accident, something of a future version of President Trump, Linus, the villain (and he surely IS a villain) who runs the Booth movement is more of an analogy to the likes of Nick Griffin. Someone just articulate and intelligent enough to mould gullible and angry people to his cause, but without the self-knowledge to realise he’s being a massive idiot. Oh, and of course he's a massive right-wing dick. He's not exactly a racist (although presumably he's an anti-mutant fanatic; any other form of racism in Mega City One doesn't seem to exist, at least not in the text). 

Although, to be fair to him, his plan to get Dredd indirectly involved as the centre of attention is a clever one.

If there's one thing Dredd hates, it's adulation
(actually Dredd hates lots of things. But adulation is up there at the top!)
Art by Colin MacNeil
The crazy thing is, Mega City 1 is itself a fascist state (albeit one with some rather tolerant attitudes to personal behaviour). So it's impressive that Eglington finds a villain who is on the one hand harnessing the power of democracy, but on the other hand is an analogy for people today who might perhaps wish the UK (or US) was actually more fascist than it currently is.***

Anyway, into the mix we get a nerd turned terrorist, and a journalist who’s more interested in getting airtime than pursuing truth.

Kelvin just wants to belong - or is he just looking for an excuse to cause trouble?
Art by Nick Dyer

Mo just wants to be able to cut a better pay deal with his TV station-
or doe she care about journalistic truth?
Art by Staz Johnson
I'm especially impressed with his use of Dredd and the Judges as bullies in this story. Although it's always presented as dispassionate upholding of the law, Mega City One does have some very liberal attitudes on display that never sat that well with the 'fascist state' underpinnings of the strip. Freedom of speech in particular is something that often seems allowed in Dredd's world, so it's good to be reminded that the Judges do in fact like to interfere with the press and generally use immoral tactics to keep their citizens in line.

After three separate stories and an epic feel, Eglington even earns a bit of character growth by the end of it all...

Art by Staz Johnson

At this point, I'm always pleased to see Eglington's name in the credits box.

More on TC Eglington:
As I imagine befits a hot new writing talent, he's on Instagram (turns out he's pretty good at drawing, too)
You might enjoy an old Thrillcast episode where TC (along with Rob Williams and Chris Weston) talks about writing Dredd
And you can see him in action on Youtube as part of a Panel at 2017's Thought Bubble festival.

Time for one last big idea!
Art by Lee Carter

Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd: Prey; Sons of Booth; Hoverods; Icon; The Booth Conspiracy
Tharg’s 3rillers: Gunheadz
Outlier: it works as a whole, but book 3 is the best
Terror Tales: Contractions
Tales of Mega City One: the Irrational Lottery

*I've never met the man and have no right to use the nickname, but it's there on his Instagram, damnit.

**Well, that’s my take on it, from the point of view of a white man who still enjoys a heck of a lot of privilege. I’m not trying to say this is some objective truth or nuthin'.

***Neither the US nor the UK are actually fascist states! Although speaking as a namby-pamby liberal, I sure wish both countries would do less locking people up, a lot less personal surveillance, and quit with the racial profiling.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

No. 119 Steve Roberts

First Prog: 1320
Latest Prog: 1518

First Meg: 240
Latest Meg: 280

Total appearances: 76
-including his episodes of Metro Dredd and Metal Hammer SinDex that were reprinted in the Megazine, and a small handful of colouring jobs.

Creator credits:

Bec & Kawl
Black Atlantic

Other art credits:
Sinister Dexter
Banzai Battalion
The Angel Gang
Metro newspaper version of Dredd
Future Shocks + one offs

Notable character creations:
Bec(ky Miller)
(Jarrod) Kawl

Simon Davis's paints over Steve Roberts' pencils makes for a powerful image!

Notable characteristics:
Just about one of the cartooniest artists to have worked as a 2000AD regular. By which I mean, his characters and backgrounds often don’t try to look real, but rather to evoke ideas of real things in a simple way. Almost certainly as a result of this style, Roberts is pretty exclusively linked with funny stories…

Sometimes, all you need is a little bug-eyed jump scare to get you laughing.
Words by Dan Abnett
 …although in fact he achieved a pretty neat line in genuinely spooky moments.

Even though Kawl is trying not to be scared, Roberts' evil clown can't help but press the fear button in my brain.
Words by Si Spurrier

Also, he likes drawing curly noses and elbows, craggy hands and, perhaps above all else, pouty lips.

On Steve:
Steve Roberts was a pretty consistent artistic voice during the Andy Diggle / early Matt Smith years, very strongly associated with two writers, Dan Abnett and Si Spurrier. It’s nice to think he was and is good friends with both, as they meshed together pretty well, but I’ve no idea if that’s the case – it’s not uncommon these days for writers and artists to only ever talk by email, and even then it may go through the editor rather than person to person!

However it happened, Roberts got his break not through the classic Future Shock route, but on that other 2000 staple of one-off anarchy, Sinister Dexter. Back in them days, Sinister Dexter was largely an excuse for Abnett to throw in some puns and try out all sorts of writing style pastiches, while a large roster of artists played up a mixture of exaggeration, coolness and ultra-violent gunplay.

Not sure I’d describe Roberts’s vibe as ‘cool’, but he’s certainly into exaggeration and not shy of ultra-violence, although his cartooning makes the most horrific deaths seem oddly palatable.

Shocked expressions by Steve Roberts; muzzle flash by Chris Blythe; Words by Dan Abnett

Only Roberts' second story, but already his line and confidence has improved markedly!
Words by Dan Abnett

Craggy hands in action! There's something about the way he shapes his phalanges.
Words by Dan Abnett

He really nails the two characters' body language here. Dexter holds himself fully upright, looking suave, while Sinister holds his neck forward and own, and his whole body is generally more hunched and relaxed.
Words by Dan Abnett (and nifty colours here by Simon Gurr)

This style is not a million miles from an old 2000AD legend, Ron Smith. He was, of course, the go-to man for drawing idiots being idiotic and, where possible, ugly. Which leads nicely into Roberts’s first brush with the world of Mega City One, a couple of episodes of ‘Whatever happened to…’ that ran in the Megazine.

Spot the hapless Imelda Dreep...
Context by Alan Grant
And at this point Roberts was ready for a proper series, partner in crime this time round being Si Spurrier, and a full-on trying-really-hard-to-be-funny actual comedy strip, Bec and Kawl. I’ll be honest, I never liked Bec and Kawl quite as much as I wanted to, but I was always glad to see it in the Prog, with its guarantee of a gentle smile if not a belly laugh. It’s unfair to compare, but the strip is a comedy set in the world of workshy students, and, as such, it’s kind of a half-way house between the ultraviolent lunacy of DR & Quinch, and the more sardonic lunacy of Survival Geeks. And it’s not as good as either of those, even if its heart was in the right place.

Do people still watch Army of Darkness? It was a big part of my growing up, surely.
Words by Si Spurrier

Bec and Kawl is also the strip where Roberts found his footing. The early series have a slightly scrappy quality to the lines – which, on a meta-textual level, kind of lines up with the way it felt as a first year undergraduate, not yet having a comfortable personality.

Early Bec and Kawl has a rough quality, while still delivering the creepy monster goods.
Words by Si Spurrier
But as the series continued, (and the students aged) Roberts’s confidence seemed to grow, too. His lines smoothed out he seemed to exaggerate his faces and body language more effortlessly.

Late Bec and Kawl is much smoother, somehow. Our heroes are more comfortable in their own skin (and indeed clothes).
Words by Si Spurrier 

Whether or not you like the lead characters – genial, slightly bumbling stereotype of a young 2000AD fan Jarrod Kawl and goth-ish, vamp-ish, not nearly as cool as she thinks she is Becky Miller, you can’t deny that Steve Roberts captured them both perfectly.

But the true delight for me is in his scenery, whether it’s a folk-horror countryside, or the sheer hell of a motorway. The 2000AD-ish point of the series is its bizarre monsters, derived from a mix of British legend and frankly Spurrier’s warped imagination*, and Roberts never lets the team down on that front.

It's the smoking cauldrons that really sells this folk horror delight.
Word by Si Spurrier

Someone's been watching Brian Yuzna's Society. And a good thing too! Props also for the mad science machine in the background.
Words by Si Spurrier

More mad science, and do you know what, there's that beautiful  lo-fi charm to the line work that puts me in mind of no less a legend than Peter Dohety.
Words by Si Spurrier

In between episodes, The Spurrier/Roberts combo also produced a short string of Metro Dredd newspaper strips

Mad citizens and general lunacy - perfect. Weirdly geriatric Dredd - probably wouldn't work in the actual Prog...

And even a weird little series on the BBC website, of all places, but specifically linked to and indeed printed in 2000AD.
(You can still read that 4-parter here)

Supremely confident cartooning. Love it.
Words by Si Spurrier

Back in the Prog, alongside the odd Future Shock:

When Roberts does his own colouring, he really knows how to exaggerate the mood.
Words by Gary Wilkinson
Roberts landed a pretty prestigious gig drawing the final series of Banzai Battalion. This hilarious robot action romp never had a series regular artist, so it put Roberts alongside a pantheon of 2000AD legends – Henry Flint, Ian Gibson and Cam Kennedy. Robert’s work on Robot Wars stands up to them all pretty damn well. His style really reinforces the ‘Toy Story’ aspects of the series, which is about inch-high robots fighting bugs and then crime – and, ultimately, each other.

Expert action cartooning.
Words by John Wagner

For this last go around, writer John Wagner puts the focus on Captain Bug Stomper's sense of his own mission. He had always been a bit too gung-ho and here descends into full-on battle craziness. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the Norman Bates pastiche from the final page of Banzai Battalion is one of my favourite visions of a man** gone mad.

One of my all time favourite 2000AD pages
Words by John Wagner

Somehow this ended up being Roberts’s final work for the Prog (well, except for a stint colouring Richard Elson on the first series of Kingdom),

This is Roberts colouring Elson - a nice counterpoint to Elson's work colouring Bec and Kawl.
Words by Dan Abnett
but he was kept busy developing a couple of series for the Megazine.

First, teamed up again with Dan Abnett, an all-new comedy series, Black Atlantic.
The pair came up with a cast of characters, and used a new setting to tell what short have been short, sharp, fun romps.

Nothing wrong with the set up or character design, but Black Atlantic never really found its headwind.
Words by Dan Abnett

At its best, it’s basically Ace Trucking Co but at sea, in the world of Dredd. A series that Roberts himself claims as a personal favourite, and he’s an excellent fit for that kind of comedy action. Sadly, Black Atlantic only ever hit those heights in the odd panel here and there, with neither of the two stories quite gelling.

Rubber ducks with evil tentacles: awesome; narration by scared 'ordinary boy': bit dry.
Words by Dan Abnett

Frankly far more successful was another collaboration with Si Spurrier, retelling lost tales of the Angel Gang. For this strip, Roberts developed a new black and white style that almost has a lino-cut quality to it.

Now that's how to fill a page with weirdoes and oddballs!
Words by Si Spurrier
Not quite full McMahon Slaine, but not a million miles off, and very deliberately (well, I think so) evoking a period western feel. Yes, technically that period is 100 years into the future***, but as with Missionary Man and the like, there’s definitely a sense that the Cursed Earth is not unlike a Sergio Leone western (or perhaps Corbucci is more in Spurrier’s pretentious film-school based wheelhouse). And, as such, the sepia / black-and-white early photography look really works.

The Angels themselves are a horrible, ugly, silly bunch. The people they interact with are typically also silly and occasionally ugly, if less horrible. As such, it’s an absolutely perfect fit for Roberts. Even better was his solo story tackling the Fink. Again, the series is pretty much all comedy, but you can’t have a lead character who is basically a decaying pseudo-zombie and not have some creepy horror elements.

More terrific contortions
Words by Si Spurrier

After seeing Roberts develop this new style and delivering arguably his most accomplished work, it was kind of sad that he bade farewell to Tharg. On the other hand, after my children were born a few years later I was delighted to encounter his work again in the form of DipDap, and absolute gem of an animation on CBeebies.****

Yes, that is a dude with a T Rex sticking out of his head. Literally.

More on Steve Roberts:
Frankly, I’m stumped. You’ll need to get hold of Megazine 278 for a print interview…

Personal favourites:
Whatever happened to Imelda Dreep
Sinister Dexter: Dirty habits
Bec & Kawl: Pest Control, Attack of the Cones, Freakshow
Banzai Battalion: Robot Wars
The Angel Gang: Before they wuz Dead; Pizen: Impossible


*These monsters are pointedly not drawn from fantasy/SF pop culture, a la Survival Geeks, if you’re wondering how this older comedy strip about whiny students is different!

**OK, robot.

***Hmm, thinking about this a little further, it’s perhaps more like 75 years into the future, if we’re talking about the Angel Gang a few years before the events of the Judge Child Saga, set in 2102…

****Apologies to people who don't pay the license fee needed to watch BBC stuff. You might be able to find it on Amazon Prime?