Thursday, November 29, 2018

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.

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