Thursday, November 29, 2018

No. 126 Gina Hart

First Prog: 730
Final Prog: 979

First Meg: 2.01 (aka 21)
Final Meg: 3.12 (aka 115)

Art under the colours by Chris Weston

Total appearances: 71
-including two Poster Progs, but not including a bunch of credits on 'Lawman of the Future'.

Colouring credits:
Judge Dredd
Rogue Trooper
Venus Bluegenes
Kelly's Eye
Maniac 5
Tyranny Rex
Luke Kirby
Red Razors
Darkness Visible

Notable characteristics:
Bright, bold and cheerful.

On Gina:
A whole slew of colouring specialists came to the Prog following the switch to all colour, all the time with Prog 723. Gina Hart was already something of a name in the comic colouring world thanks to her work on Rupert Bear and UK Transformers. On 2000AD, for a few years, she was one of the more consistent of the new names, filling in between the lines on such venerable inksmiths as:

Simon Coleby, Cliff Robinson, Paul Marshall, Brett Ewins, Steve Parkhouse and John Ridgway.

Words by John Wagner; Art by Cliff Robinson

I confess almost total ignorance as to the techniques available to colourists at this time. It was pretty much pre-computers (certainly well before Carlos Ezquerra's early experiments on Wilderlands), and whatever methods / materials she used, Hart clearly wasn't going the fully-painted route of S. Bisley or C. Critchlow. These days of early 90s colour can look unsophisticated compared to the more modern computer-based work, but there's quite a bit of charm and plenty of range to Hart's pages. Someone somewhere who knows what they're talking about needs to write up a history of colouring in the UK comics scene!

On the whole her colours were pleasingly bright and lurid, an especially good fit for that period of Coleby and Ewins' work, to pick out two names. On Judge Dredd in particular I appreciate this approach. Given that the strip is a satire set in a fascist dictatorship, it's a remarkably cheerful-looking dystopia, with blues and greens and pinks aplenty. A trick that ups the comedy and generally helps put you on the side of Dredd, right before you remember that he's enforcing the law for a tyrannical regime against deeply oppressed citizens.

Violence made palatable by super-pink blood spatter.
Words by John Wagner; Art by Yan Shimony

More death in pink!
Words by Garth Ennis; Art by Simon Coleby

Picking out the foreground
Words by Garth Ennis; Art by Gary Erskine

The simple colour choices here really makes the ugliness pop!
Words by John Smith; Art by Ashley Sanders

Matching Robsinon's detail-focussed work
Words by John Wagner; Art by Cliff Robinson

It's not just dayglo colours. On Parkhouse's version of Luke Kirby, Hart delivers sombre, nostalgia-filled tones...

It's the early 1960s, innit
Words by Alan McKenzie; Art by Steve Parkhouse

While the future noir of Kelly's Eye is much more muted, with pastel neons of all things. The story may not have been all that, and Ewins was, arguably, no longer at this peak - but between Ewins and Hart there's something witty going on that sells the impossibility of cliffhanger endings involving an indestructible hero.

This strip is not to be taken too seriously; it's John Wick 30 years ahead of its time...
Words by Alan McKenzie; Art by Brett Ewins

When it comes to the gonzo cliche-fest of Maniac 5, there's room to play with mood lighting...

The colour of evil science is green.
Words by Mark Millar; Art by Steve Yeowell

As well as the colour of violent death in Dredd

Yup, more pink!
Words by Garth Ennis; art by Gary Erskine

See also the visual puns of blue-skinned Rogue Trooper battling in the blue ice of Nu-Earth* Sahara

The overall atmosphere of this strip, mostly from the look, elevates it above many a Fr1day tale.
Words by Michael Fleisher; art by Simon Coleby

Darkness Visible, that desperately unsung gem of a horror story, combines both tricks of vivid reality with sinister mood lighting:

Sometimes you just need the red, yellow and black of hellfire.
Words by Nick Abadzis; Art by John Ridgway

My guess is Hart fell off the 2000AD train with the switch from the Burton/McKenzie/Tomlinson years to the Bishop era. Certainly she turned up colouring on Sonic the Comic, so presumably Mr Burton still had her number.

More on Gina Hart:
This very mini biography on Women in Comics is pretty much all I could find (or its copy on Wikipedia)

Personal Favourites:
Judge Dredd: a Clockwork Pineapple
Kelly's Eye: Armed Response
Maniac 5
Darkness Visible

I do like a nice calm blue sky for a nuclear blast contrast.
Words by Peter Hogan; Art by Lee Sulllivan (I think)

*I'll be honest, I completely lost track of which planet Fr1day is actually on in the Michael Fleisher series. I know he left whichever planet the original War Machine Hill 392 was on. Did our hero end up on the actual Earth, which has flipped its poles or something, Meltdown Man style? I know the Sahara was frozen for some reason! Or was it a new Nu-Earth?

No. 125 Hilary Robinson

First Prog: 590, although I think her story in the 1988 Sci-Fi Special technically saw print first
Latest Prog: 699

Total appearances: 73

Starring Hilary J Robinson as herself!
Art by Ron Smith

Creator credits:
Medivac 318
Zippy Couriers
Chronos Carnival

Character drama in Chronos Carnival
Art by Ron Smith

Other writing credits:
The Mean Team
Tales from the Doghouse
Various one-offs

Notable character creations:
Maeve the Many-Armed
Shauna McCullogh
Verity McKinnon

Maeve the Many-Armed must be read in an Oirish accent for the full effect.
Art by Simon Jacob

Notable characteristics:
Giving panel space over to banter, emotions and atmosphere. Revelling in pairs/groups of people who rub each other up the wrong way. Showing what happens in between the plot beats, as well as the plot beats themselves.

The McCullogh sisters get on like... sisters.
Art by Graham Higgins

Medivac 318 - a war story told through its quiet moments.
Art by Nigel Dobbyn

On Hilary:
After breaking in with the obligatory Future Shocks, Hilary Robinson found herself all over the Prog for two glorious years – before disappearing entirely, I gather in something of a very reasonable dispute (on her part) with the editorial team (less reasonable) about copyright and the propriety of giving one writer's story to another person to write.

Anyway, if you picked up a Prog in the 600s, odds were good it had at least one Robinson story in it*. Odds are also pretty high that the story was quite unlike anything else in the Prog at the time, while always fitting the remit of Science Fiction adventure comics.

Her Future Shocks tended to lean on the side of punchline-based comedy, although she often put in some surprisingly complex back-stories in the build-up.

This one's a purely visual gag, but Ron Smith sells it with aplomb, no?

Creepy crowds
Art by Massimo Belardinelli

The prolific and creative Robinson unleashed three all-new series onto 2000AD in pretty short order. First to see print was Zippy Couriers, which for me epitomises are certain branch of late 80s 2000AD. It's slice-of-life Sci-Fi, which I suppose had been done before with Halo Jones, but that was somehow more operatic; a more fitting comparison might be Hap Hazzard.

Honest banter, Zippy style.
Art by Graham Higgins

Zippy Couriers follows the fortunes of a futuristic courier service, frankly a topic more in tune with today's world of Amazon, Deliveroo and so on.** As you might imagine, much of the plot centres on the sorts of things being carried, and of course rival courier / legal shenanigans, not a million miles from Ace Trucking Co – except that it's all set very much on Earth, in the not-too-distant future, so it feels utterly different.

How to make a strip about inner-city couriers feel like 2000AD.
Art by Graham Higgins

And that's the key of it – the setting, the characters and of course Robinson trademark banter (complete with talking cat) – all add to the slice-of-life feel. Yes, it's Sci-Fi, but it's just about people being alive, and that, to me, is the sort of thing that was only just creeping into mainstream comics in the late 80s. Trendy, but accessible.

Late 80s 2000AD had it in for students, for some reason. I guess they were an even easier target
when they didn't have to pay tuition fees!
Art by Graham Higgins

Robinson was no stranger to pure 2000AD, though, as exemplified by her brace of Tales from the Doghouse, featuring one of the best Bounty-Hunter designs sadly not used since, Maeve the Many-Armed***. Her two tales focussed as much on her negotiating skills before and after a job than the actual bounty-collection, but that's not say they're light on action. They actually work pretty well by giving the character a chance to put herself front and centre.

Talking heads made fun
Art by Simon Jacob

Maeve continues not to take any shit.
Art by Simon Jacob

Sometimes carefully applied violence does solve problems
Art by Simon Jacob
Medivac 318 is something I've tried and failed to research on the ol' internet. Somewhere in the back of my mind, probably buried in the 2000AD Forums, I have an idea that Robinson came up with the wider world of Medivac before starting on 2000AD, and even wrote one or two short stories (possibly illustrated by series artist Nigel Dobbyn?) that were published who knows where. Maybe in some issues of Belfast-based zine Ximoc?

I say this because if ever there was a series that started in medias res, it's Medivac 318! The first series, as the name suggests, follows a medical evacuation team coming to the aid of a fallen soldier during some sort of intergalactic war. But we're given few details of that war, and of the worlds outside the central action.

The Jenarit are the kind of enemy who looks scary but then you find out humans may be even worse...
Art by Nigel Dobbyn

But then, in follow-up tale Arcturus, we meet a whole host of new characters, new planets, politics, terrorism, psychics and only background hints of both war and hospitals. It's some crazy world-building and like many a squaxx, I was gutted we never got to find out more.

What's in the box? A simple but elegant mystery...
Art by Nigel Dobbyn

Impressively, the two series that ran couldn't be more different. The first is a fairly tense thriller, with heaps of banter between lead Medivac-er Verity MacKinnon, her pilot and patient(s), under the threat of attack from insectoid aliens.

Writing short, snappy, TV style banter for comics is really hard, you've got so little space for text!
Robinson doesn't get enough credit for this skill.
Art by Nigel Dobbyn

See, Frank Miller, inner monologue captions don't have to be pretentious noiresque nonsense.
Art by Nigel Dobbyn

 It's pretty great (if hampered by a large break in its original publication, and so far no reprint collection). It also seeds a handful of other key players, chiefly the psychic Jay. Arcturus is more of a political/soap-opera-ish sprawl, and, if I'm honest, promised more action than it delivered in most episodes.

It's not gonna end well...
Art by Nigel Dobbyn

That said, I can remember reading this in weekly installments, and it's an unusual example of a strip that worked better in that format than it did on a re-read. The soap-y fun of seeing characters moon over each other and hoping they will get to meet / reconcile / solve the mystery / escape the conflict (there's a lot of plot here!) works best in a 'wait until next week!' vibe.

Frankly the whole thing would've worked better if there had only been more of it, another chance to visit those characters, or at least to revisit the leads from the previous series a little more than we got.

Proving her versatility again, Robinson unleashed an existential urban horror story, Survivor, derived from the poisoned chalice that was the Mean Team. I'm super curious to know if she pitched the story or Tharg just offered it to her as a test. Anyhow, she gamely picks up from Alan Hebden's uber-nihilistic finale to Book 2 by latching onto Henry Moon, everyone's favourite psychic nice guy trapped in the body of a panther.

Moon embraces his new body in style.
Art by Ron Smith

He first-person narrates his way through a tale of identity, revenge, and embracing your inner panther. Ron Smith was a weird fit but delivers on the violence and evil scientists. One can imagine if this had been illustrated by one of the trendier artists of the day – Simon Harrison, perhaps, or painted-style Will Simpson – this could've been much better received. I mean, it's still pretentious in many ways, but which adult thrills weren't in 1989?

Henry Moon is a strong contender for 2000AD's most angsty hero.
Art by Ron Smith

It's dark stuff, this internal narration through death and rebirth.
Art by Ron Smith

What wasn't a story for grown-ups, and did suit artist Ron Smith, was Chronos Carnival. A story of a haunted Carnival, and the time-based adventures as had by its two owners and the alien/dragon they befriend. It's the right story in the wrong comic, no doubt much more remembered for being terribly right-on by having one of the leads be wheelchair-bound, and perhaps also suffering for all three leads being a little too nice by 2000AD standards. Having two leads in a futuristic-looking strip called simply 'Jenny' and 'Neil' probably didn't help much, even if they did add a dragon to the mix.

It's just such a friendly image, not typical 2000AD. They're both smiling, not snarling!
Art by Ron Smith

Sure, they argue with each other but there's never any doubt that their hearts are in the right place and that they'll do the right thing. In some ways a refreshing change to the likes of Dredd, Alpha, Nemesis and Slaine – but on the other hand, often dull.

And also not enough to make up for the background fun of seeing idiot carnival-goers suffering all sorts of carnage from the story in the background. It's not fashionable of me to say it, but I bet someone like Si Spurrier could have a ton of fun reviving this strip and amping up the violence and misanthropy. Or, y'know, Robinson herself could do it!

You just know these simps are gonna get proper dead by the end of the episode...
Art by Ron Smith

As it is, that second Chronos Carnival was it for Robinson. I think there was a third story written, and indeed a third series of Medivac 318 that may even have been part-drawn, but it wasn't to be. Several Thargs and indeed changes of ownership later, 2000AD has rebuilt its bridges with Robinson, so who knows if we may yet get to re-encounter some of these tales, or better yet, find out what new stories she's ready to tell...

More on Hilary Robinson:

There's a short bio, including an extract from Thrill-Power Overload on Fandom

And a longer bio with post-2000AD work mentioned on Women in Comics

What she's been up to lately can be explored a little on Down The Tubes

As you'd expect from the name, Verity tells it like it is.
Art by Nigel Dobbyn

Personal favourites:
Zippy Couriers
Tales from the Doghouse: Maeve the Many-Armed
Medivac 318
Mean Team: Survivor

*Prog 622 has no fewer than THREE Hilary Robinson strips in it!

**But it'd be tough to do a strip about a futuristic courier without drawing immediate comparisons to Neil Stephenson's influential novel Snow Crash, starring the hilariously-monikered Hiro Protagonist, ultimate skateboarding pizza delivery guy.

***No offence to Sting Ray, Robinson's other mutant bounty hunter.

No. 124 Emma Beeby

First Prog: 1824
Latest Prog: 2099

First Meg: 359
Latest Meg: 360

Total appearances: 74

If in doubt, add lots of blood. Cheerleader outfit optional.
Art by Neil Googe

Creator credits:
Survival Geeks
The Alienist

Victorian language funnies
Art by Eoin Coveney

Other writing credits:
Judge Dredd
Anderson, Psi Division

Notable character creations:
Psi Judge Flowers
Miss Vespertine
The Survival Geeks

Setting up a will-they-won't-they. One of those cliches that just works.
Art by Neil Googe

Notable characteristics:
Shockingly*, Emma Beeby is a woman. Being as I am a prejudiced man, this pretty much meant I went into her stories looking for her to have written more and better female characters than most of her peers. And frankly, that IS the case – but it's surely as much because I was looking for it.

Take this example of Psi Judge Hamida, suddenly caught up in a psi-flash. Now, this is all on me, but I can't help reading it as a metaphor for “you think woman have an easier ride, do you? Well YOU don't have to deal with THIS shit.”

Would you like to have psi-powers? WOULD you?
Art by Paul Davidson
Of course Beeby has plenty of other things to say, too. What is most evident to me is a love for the escapist parts of escapist fantasy. Beeby is surely fond of exploring and indeed enjoying the thrill of 'what if magic/psychic powers/your favourite nerd thing was real?' And then running with it, both for all its joy and all its silliness.

Yay magic! Yay role-playing games! And I'm not even being sarcastic.
Art by Neil Googe

On Emma:
Let's get some caveats out of the way. Firstly, Emma Beeby is one of the most recent new-start creators to hit the Hero list, and although she's racked up an impressive thrill count, it's way too early to start picking out trends and tics in her writing. That won't stop me from trying...

Secondly, roughly half of her published work has been co-written with Gordon 'super prolific' Rennie. I don't know how they share their duties, but I wouldn't be surprised if, on occasion, it involves them splitting up scripting chores episode by episode. Which means that any scans I supply here may, in fact, be showing dialogue/situations that are more or less entirely Rennie's rather than Beeby's. I just have to hope they don't get too cross! In this respect, Beeby is in excellent company – for many years, fellow Scotlander Alan Grant was also king of the co-scripted credit.

A classically 2000AD scene of terror and torture. From the mind of Beeby and/or Rennie.
Art by Eoin Coveney

Anyway, Dredd. Much as it seemed to just happen without any fanfare, Beeby has found herself in the lofty position of being the first female writer to have a Judge Dredd story in 2000AD, some 35 years into the life of a character who has been written by a huge number of people. Frankly more interesting is that her first two Dredd stories both dealt very explicitly with the fallout from Chaos Day, something many writers have done a bit, but I don't think quite so boldly.

Citizens struggling to cope with extreme tragedy and disaster is no excuse in the eyes of the law!
Art by Paul Davidson
Suicide Watch is ultimately a tale of magic, soul-sucking and psychic whatnot, but it's also about the trauma of being a survivor when most of the people you know were killed. And Ferals, one of my very favourite Dredds of recent years, explores both the reality of growing up in post-Chaos MC1, and the perils of trusting adults.
Would you trust a Judge to help?
Art by John Burns

Generational angst, Mega-City style
Art by John Burns

Beeby has also delivered on the silly/funny one-off Dredds, although so far only in Specials.

Watch out for that rogue fireball, dude...
Art by Eoin Coveney

Predating those early Dredd efforts by all of two weeks, Beeby's actual introduction to the Prog was on one of those 3rillers so successful it spawned a series almost immediately. That'd be Survival Geeks, described on earlier entries in this blog as the natural heir to both DR & Quinch and Bec & Kawl. I guess the secret was to drop the ampersand and add in two more lead characters.

I confess in recent outings I'd somehow forgotten the original premise of the story, but it's all neatly laid out in that first 3riller. You have your three variations on the male student geek, including the super-intense brainy one who turns their house into an inter-dimensional flying machine; add into the mix a girl who is more into geek culture than she would like to admit, but less into one of the three boys than he would like her to admit. 

Then set that lot loose to travel the multiverse, visiting a different version of geek heaven (ie SF/fantasy/horror realm of choice) each series.

Which leads into an excuse to depict and poke fun at a while host of different geek delights, from role-playing games to eldritch horror to conventions, all mixed up with sitcomesque** romantic entanglements. Not as anarchic as DR & Quinch, but vastly more coherent than Bec & Kawl, and, crucially, just beautifully drawn throughout.

Like a lot of sitcoms, the early episodes felt a bit obvious, as the characters and setting had to be drawn in broad strokes, but on a re-read it all holds up far better than I'd expected, and I do hope it keeps showing up for more fun. Genuine comedy strips only work about half the time, and this one is a keeper!

Beeby's other collaboration with Rennie is the Alienist, arguably an even more Dr Who-ish*** story than that of a group of teens in a dimension-hopping house. The titular Alienist is in fact an alien (well, other-dimensional being of some sort) who arrives in Victorian Britain chasing a demon (well, other other-dimensional being of some sort) and ends up trapped on Earth with only a mission to defeat evil demons, in disguise as a human named Vespertine. The twist is that she pretends to be the companion of a elderly man who has mystical powers – but it's her who has the powers really. 

Subsequent series have veered between comedy and horror and poking fun at Victorian moral standards / views on women. It's also a more light-hearted foray into Gordon Rennie's long-standing obsession with old-fashioned ghost stories / horror-themed stuff, clearly a love shared by Emma Beeby.

It's easy to assume the jokes about a competent younger woman propping up a drunken, wispy-haired older man are a response to the Beeby-Rennie writing partnership, but presumably the jokes in that vein come equally from both;

 in any case the real skill comes from the characters, neat plotting, and delirious things they ask Eoin Coveney to draw. No slight to Absolom, but for me, the Alienist is the spiritual heir to Caballistics, Inc, and I can't wait for more!

Now, as if earlier comparisons with Alan Grant weren't enough, Beeby's most high-profile gig for Tharg has been taking on Anderson, Psi Division. Grant's still telling the occasional tale, too, but it kind of feels as if Beeby is more or less the series architect now, with continuity-heavy stories involving all sorts of Psi characters. Plus, she's pulled off that tricky trick of keeping Anderson as her rebellious self, while also showing her to be a hyper-competent Judge and leader.

Cassandra Anderson is a bad-ass muthafucka.
Art by Nick Dyer

I'll be honest, her first effort, which introduced rookie Psi Judge Flowers, felt like a new writer finding her feet. A bit too much plot, not quite enough breathing space for the old 2000AD ultraviolence.

Check the meaningful glance between Anderson and Flowers, not to mention the whispered aside by the bad guy. Subtle stuff - too subtle for me?
Art by Andrew Currie

Flowers has that much-vaunted superpower better known as 'spider-sense'
Art by Andrew Currie

But boy, was next story the Candidate a big hit with me! Beeby seems able to bring a whole new take on the concept of Psi powers, different to what Wagner and Grant had done before, even down to the simple scene of Anderson walking through a crowd and picking up on people's thoughts – a riff on that old Star Scan 'Psi Division – don't even think about committing a crime!'
This is what happens when a psychic walks through a crowd...
Art by Nick Dyer

Psychics working together to carry out a sting. How has this not been used before as a plot point?
Art by Nick Dyer

And generally, between Anderson, the danger pre-cog Flowers, demon-possessed Karyn and various others, Beeby is running with the joy of 'just what could you do if you had psychic powers of various kinds?', and I'm finding it refreshing. Subsequent story Undertow had perhaps a bit too much of that plotiness in it again, but gains massive points from me for bringing together a huge cast of characters, and showing Anderons as a team-player, something she obviously is but rarely gets a chance to show as a) the star of her own series and b) and anti-authoritarian figure working within an ultra-authoritarian regime.

I can't end without referencing the Feels, Beeby's Dredd strip (and the best story) in the 2018 Sci-Fi 'all women creators' special. Her emotion-warping crimewave story deftly nails the tone of early 80s Dredd (the early, funny ones), while also meta-skewering the sort of idiot readers who think that girls shouldn't write Judge Dredd because they'd be all fluffy and weepy and let emotions get in the way of a good punch up.

Feelings are fun!
Art by Babs Tarr

Emma Beeby is here to stay, and I desperately hope she doesn't get lured away by rival comics too soon!

More on Emma Beeby:
Her Twitter
An interview on Women Write About Comics
There's a nifty profile on DCs website

And of course a bunch of media coverage from her 'woman writes Judge Dredd' work:
TheGuardian being the obvious place to start.

And a neat interview with Beeby and Tarr about the Feels on 2000AD's own wesbite.

Getting the last laugh
Art by Neil Googe

Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd: Suicide Watch, Ferals, the Feels
Survival Geeks: Movie Night; Geeks Fatales; Slack 'n Hash
The Alienist: all of it (more please, and swiftly!)
Anderson, Psi Division: the Candidate

*Seriously, the tininess of the number of women who have ever written for 2000AD is genuinely shocking, for a mainstream comic that has been going for 40+ years. See also pretty much every other comic, ever. Including, infamously, the UKs own popular line of 'girls' comics'. But this blog is a place to celebrate what we have, not to condemn what we don't.

**For my money, it reminds me far more of Fresh Meat than the more obvious comparison, Big Bang Theory. It's more British and less 'funny'.

***Beeby is a vocal Who fan (Whovian?) and indeed scripter of Dr Who comics.