Sunday, November 11, 2018

No. 123 Steve Sampson

First Prog: 1080
Final Prog: 1158

First Meg: 1.15
Final Meg: 3.19

Total appearances: 73
-including a handful of strips and some pin-ups in Crisis

2000AD's most used cover pun?

Creator credits:
Brit-Cit Babes
Culling Crew

Steve Sampson likes to draw chequered flooring.

Other art credits:
Anderson, Psi Division
Judge Dredd
Sinister Dexter
Tyranny Rex
Pulp Sci-Fi

Harmony remains hard to pin down as a character, but this image is perhaps the closest we get:
she's a non-nonsense tough bounty hunter, most at home in the Arctic wastes of Alaska.
Words by Chris Standley

Notable characteristics:
If you ask me, Steve Sampson has one of THE most distinctive styles on his 2000AD/Megazine work, but I’m struggling to work out how to describe it. I guess there’s the photo referencing, in particular the use of his girlfriend (I think?) as a model – and I’m not telling tales out of school here, he literally credits her and thanks her on the page at one point!*

This inset panel even fits the story tonally; something of a farewell piece.
But it’s probably the colours. I don’t think he used felt-tip pens, but it kind of feels like that at times. There are solid blocks of vibrant colours aplenty, often highlighting the bare flesh of various characters and helping that to stand out. Sometimes to prurient effect, but often rather tasteful.

A pin-up page from Crisis. Of course it's from Crisis!

It reminds me a little of Julian Opie, and has a hint of that whole ‘New British Artist’ thing that was all the rage in the 1990s, you know, generally a bit more Deadline than 2000AD as far as comics go, and even more a thing in the world of pop music and Youf TV than comics. And, although it may reflect various writers' passions at the time, a bunch of his work was what you might called Tarantinoesque. Lots of obviously 'quirky' characters who present as cooler-than-thou, and are typically dishing out and/or receiving bloody violence.

Recognisable hench-villain in cool coat: check.
OTT comedy bloodsplat effect: check.
Distinctive sound effects (noise and lettering style!): check.
Words by Chris Standley

I suspect Sampson’s style is one that put plenty of readers off, but I confess I’m a fan, and thought his work got better with practice, too.

He's also got a very particular way of creating hair. Big, flowing hair.

On Steve:
Steve Sampson had something of an unfortunate start as a Megazine artist – he delivered the first and only series of Brit-Cit Babes. A strip written by legend of legends John Wagner, and with a cover that couldn’t be more enticing by another legend, Brain Bolland.

Steve Sampson’s interior strip work practically had to be a let-down with all that promise. Of course it didn’t help that Wagner’s script couldn’t have lacked much more lustre. So readers were left with an artist who wasn’t Bolland drawing with an in-your-face style on a strip that basically seemed to exist only on T ‘n A and bloody violence – as opposed to the sophisticated adult storytelling delivered previously in the Megazine with the likes of America and Young Death.

Yes, that it a sex-pinball machine; it's a little bit Barbarella.
Words by John Wagner
Luckily, editor David Bishop didn’t lay the blame on Sampson, who picked up steady work in the Meg with some odds and sods. Bearing in mind that Sampson's basic style hasn't changed much, and was first published too early to be a reaction, it seems to me now that he straddles a weird line between the super-cartoony work of early Frank Quitely and the trendy painted/art-y world of, say, Greg Staples or even Simon Davis.

And also, yes, he's clearly being asked to draw a ton of seXXXy laydeez, not unlike near contemporaries such as David Roach. Check out one-off tale Culling Crew, basically about a crazy assassin lady with massive hair and tiny clothes.

This is the basic Sampson hair look. It gets more detailed with time.
Words by Dave Stone

Which is openly a better drawing than this rendering of a man with a gun...

Words by Alan Grant

Sampson's basic draughtsmanship did get more sophisticated pretty quickly, and his Dredd improved, too. He's one of those young artists who had to do his learning and improving on the page, although his basic style was pretty fully formed from the off.

There's a lovely subtle texture to the hands, there. Painterly.
Words by Robbie Morrison (of COURSE it's Robbie Morrison)

Still sticking with the chunky outlines, thick swatches of colour look, mind.
Words by John Wagner

Sporadic efforts on Dredd and Anderson turned into a regular series, as Sampson took over from Trevor Hairsine and Jim Murray on Harmony - the most Tarantino-y of the Megazine strips.*

Biggish guns, trendy fashions (maybe?), scowling/smiley faces. This is light entertainment at its most 90s.
Words by Chris Standley

Spot the baddy. He's the one calling himself 'Slaughter Jack'.
Words by Chris Standley

A horrible picture, but one that sticks with me. In case you want context, Harmony is being beaten up by a robot -
this image is not actually as triggering as it looks, when you read it in the story.
Words by Chris Standley

Ah, the classic 'shoot a baddie through the dead body of a previously murdered friend' shot.
And some classic Sampson blood streaks, to boot.

Sampson’s lasting legacy would be on Anderson, Psi Division, on which he shared art duties with Arthur Ranson, swapping out series between them.

Not subtle, but actually I rather like his little 'psi flash' grawlixes (or are they emanata? Quick, someone call Scott McCloud)
Words by Alan Grant

Notably, he worked on a few key episodes of Postcards from the Edge, the series in which Anderson takes time off from being a Judge to travel the Galaxy and, perhaps, discover herself. If Grant had written it 20 years later, it'd be pastiche of Eat, Pray, Love. Some of the story was offputtingly not like Anderson, Psi Division of old - but much of it is actually some very neat character work in the vein of Halo Jones. Less consistent, artwise, than that all-time classic, but I stand by the comparison. Sampson, for his part, was obliged to render ol' Cass Anderson in various different guises.

Kick-ass hero; saintly nun; non-nonsense sex worker.
aka "previously, on Tyranny Rex..."
Words by Alan Grant

He moved over to the Prog to have a little go on those most 90s of characters, Sinister Dexter:

Tarantino time again! Although this one's just as much
Robert Rodriguez.
Words by Dan Abnett

Sometimes, Sampson's determination to give you HAIR and JACKETS gets in the way of the faces.
But you can;t fail to notice that these three characters are all meant to be 'cool'.
Words by Dan Abnett

Before resuming duties on Anderson, Psi Division for a couple more years. Let loose on some fairly wild Alan Grant stories (if, rather sadly, forgotten stories), Sampson showed off his increasing confidence as a comics artist.

See, I rather like this method of drawing wrinkles on an elderly lady just by drawing big effing lines all over her face.
Its' not 'real', but it is distinctive and just interesting to look at.
Words by Alan Grant

More photo-referencing in action, but he's captured the mood and the expressions well.
Still got the 1980s BASIC drawing programme look to his Dredd, mind.
Words by Alan Grant

He even got as crack at an Anderson epic, the much-maligned Crusade. It's remembered as 'that story where all the children were absconded from Mega-City One, but no one even mentioned it in any contemporary Judge Dredd stories'***. What it should be remembered as is the story that culminates a whole load of Anderson subplots, chiefly the lovely twins from Triad and the freaky baby from Engram. It even sees Anderson butting heads with the Council of Five, in classic 'Anderson disrespects authority and cares too much' vein. Sampson does his thing to convey the relevant emotions, some pretty intense crowd scenes both in the city and in the Cursed Earth, and of course there's plenty of death.

See, this vision of Mega City One as a meat-grinding hell is just gorgeous.
Words by Alan Grant

More exploding head goodness, and a key character moment for one of the young twins from Triad - a story much more fondly remembered than Crusade

Ultimately, Sampson's fate seems to have been that he was a favourite of David Bishop who fell by the wayside once other editors took over. Or maybe he just got bored with comics?

More on Steve Sampson:
Pretty sure this is the same guy; he's got some pretty sweet pop culture poster art going on under the handle 'The Dark Inker'
If you want interviews or in-depth analysis of his work on 2000AD / the Megaizne, you're outta luck.

Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd: Poor Johnny
Harmony: Hell Gate; Killer Instinct
Anderson, Psi Division: Postcards from the Edge; Something Wicked; Crusade; Witch; The Great Debate; Semper Vi
Sinister Dexter: Dead Cert

*If you are looking for in-school stories of Steve Sampson, then you need to check out the truly excellent 2000AD ProgSlogBlog. Creator Paul B. Rainey went to school with Mr. Sampson and references this occasionally.

**Yes, even more than Sleeze 'n Ryder, flashback-era Armitage, and the more gonzo episodes of Shimura.

***See also, Judge Hershey: Harlequin's Dance

1 comment:

  1. What a coincidence. This week I've just been reading the Anderson Psi Files and Sampson's on basically every other story.

    At first I hated his "traced photos in MS Paint" artstyle. But to be fair I quickly went from "why do they keep giving this guy work?" to "hmm... He's adding background details now, and shadows" eventually to "I... I actually like it".

    Such a fast improvement from the near vomit inducing early stuff.