Wednesday, December 23, 2020

No. 139 Eric Bradbury RIP

First Prog: 10
Latest Prog
: 838, but a year later the 1994 Winter Special and 1995 Yearbook*

Total appearances: 62
-limited entirely to his 2000AD input (well, and one Tornado cover). If we covered the man’s work for Eagle, Battle and all the other ‘Treasury’ titles he’d be WAY up on the list of most prolific!

Matt Tallon comin' through!
Words by Tom Tully

Art credits:
Rogue Trooper
Tharg the Mighty
Mean Arena
Various one-offs

Notable character creations:

The fella in the flat cap may not agree, but he's basically God in this story.
Words by Alan Moore


Shakespeare always did love a 'comedy double' drama.
Context by Chris Lowder

(Just my little joke, although he did deliver memorable renderings of both)

Notable characteristics:

One of the Prog’s more recognisable talents, if you ask me, although I’m struggling to pin down exactly what marks out his work. There’s a lot of black, and it has a certain busy-ness, as if he doesn’t mind his ink pen flicking little splots of the stuff around the edges of his work. Except I imagine it’s far more calculated than that.

Lots of thick, spooky black ink at work
Words by Tom Tully

Extreme cross-hatching AND inky splodges at work!
Words by Kelvin Gosnell

He’s one of the best at drawing horror reaction shots – you know, when a person has just seen or experienced something too shocking to wrap their mind around. A useful skill for telegraphing a Future Shock, that! 

The spooky and the spooked, in one handy panel.
Those are coat hangers,
in case you're wondering.













I’d say that Bradbury was also possessed of that rare talent, being good at drawing just about everything. Buildings, people, machines, animals. I used to think anyone who could draw could draw anything, but I’ve learned that, in fact, most artists do a few things well, and other things not so well, and tend to avoid those things. Horses, typically. Not sure whether Bradbury was naturally gifted or naturally hard-working (or both), but he’s rarely delivered a duff panel.


All the vehicles, and a sense of foreboding, too.
Words by Kelvin Gosnell

On Eric:

A horror artist who never really got the chance to do any horror stores for 2000AD, Bradbury is more or less notable for being the artist who drew Tharg’s own adventures for the longest time. Poor bastard.

So it took me a while to work out why he was so well-loved by 2000AD fans. The answer is, he was busy drawing all the other comics that informed so many childhoods! I wasn’t old enough to be there for Von Hoffman’s Invasion or Leopard of Lime Street, and reading the wrong comics to discover Invasion 1984, and that’s just listing three strips that have been reprinted recently. The point is, people who grew up reading a range of British adventure comics would have been as familiar and fond of Eric Bradbury as 2000AD devotees knew and loved Carlos Ezquerra. At least, I think that’s an apt comparison. Two giants of the medium that non-UK-comics readers have likely never heard of.

But, you know, I’m using this blog to explore and dissect all things 2000AD, so that leaves us with a very specific set of work to look at in celebration of Eric Bradbury: fill-ins, Future Shocks, and of all long-running stories, Mean Arena. Very early job on Invasion shows how well-formed Bradbury already was at this point. He knows what he’s doing.

He'll draw you dogs, water, boats, a psycho with a shotgun - no problem.
Words by Gerry Finley-Day

 The same skills allowed him to fill-in on a single episode of Rogue Trooper to equally solid effect.

Gnarly monsters! It's kind of sad there aren't more straight up horror stories in Rogue Trooper overall.
Words by Gerry Finley-Day

But really, when I think of Bradbury I think of Future Shocks. I don’t know if his work was reprinted more often than others, or if perhaps he made these short stories look better than they perhaps were. But if you see a Future Shock with Bradbury’s name in the credits box, you know it’s going to be a solid ride – and you can’t say that for a LOT of them.

A wibbly monster this time, and no skimping on the tentacles or the face bumps.
Words by Alan Moore

The eyes! The eyes!
Words by Kelvin Gosnell

You can forgive a cheap pun (alright, this one's actually rather good)
with this much love and care put into the panel.
Words by Alan Moore

‘Future Shocks’ of course is kind of shorthand for ‘one-off tales commissioned to fill up a slot.’ And for a few years, that often meant an outing for the big cheese himself, Tharg T Mighty. As a character, Tharg has endured remarkably well. He’s arrogant, condescending, and occasionally Right On. As the protagonist of a story, he’s rubbish. In fact, even the writers knew this so he often only shows up at the beginning or end to shout at droids and save the day. Bradbury does what he can to ground Tharg in the specific time and place of Thatcher’s London, early 1980s. 


Nails the key Tharg characteristic of self-importance and grumpiness.
Words by TMO (probably disguised as Alan McKenzie)

But even he can’t do much to make such generic goonish bad guys ‘the Dictators of Zrag’ feel even slightly menacing.**

You could argue they evoke something of the Daltons from Lucky Luke, or just generic bullies from most British humour comics. Or you could just ignore them as characters not worthy of getting like 3 entire 2000AD covers to their name. That’s more than Blackhawk!

Which leaves us with Mean Arena. Specifically, a rather weird period of that story that was designed to let readers in on the action, where they suggested team names (and even costume designs) for Street Football teams that Matt Tallon could compete against. 

You get the design concept, yes? They have blades on their heads, and charge headfirst into things.
Got to hold back your sporting finesse, that. Like, imagine if Arsenal players were contractually obliged to knock goals using only their arses.
Words by Tom Tully, character design by some kid in 1981.

 Plus the usual ‘Tallon commits murder in the name of revenge, sometimes with the aid of a small robot boy’ shenanigans. This future sports story ended up in some WEIRD places.

Robot boy, paranoid hero, wheelchair hobgoblin - your typical sports story, then.
Words by Tom Tully

Bradbury brings all this far more quality than it deserves. His storytelling is immaculate, and at times it really needs to be to make sense of the action in a sport that has nebulous rules, and goals that change from team to team. His stark blacks also keep up the tension, and remind the reader that the word ‘street’ in Street Football is very much code for ‘working class, run-down, unrefined, nothing like the Premiere League’ type game.

Bradbury'd using that ink-flecked trick again to evoke a salt-of-the-earth quality in Tallon's team mates
Words by Tom Tully
Every now and then, we get scenes of the game being played. It's pretty rough and tough!
Words by Tom Tully

And let's not forget that 'hero' Matt Tallon is a crazy-eyed psycho...

Matt Tallon - one of 2000AD's more 'anti' heroes

Presumably hard at work on umpteen other comics, Bradbury slowly disappeared from the Prog, barring a late Future Shock and Terror Tale. But he was a pretty regular presence in the specials for a good long while. It’s worth noting that his style changed a little during this late phase of his career, or perhaps that’s just me not appreciating the difference a little colour makes. And of course it didn’t help him that he was essentially the go-to man for Tharg tales. I don’t know if it was editorial mandate but he has a thing where he loves drawing people (and monsters and even robots) proper warts-and-all style, but his Tharg varied from nobbly-faced to smooth as anything.

Nobly Tharg in uncle mode


Nobbly Tharg in crazy-eyed psycho mode

Tharg in ultra-smooth 'supreme leader' mode

Bradbury is a rare artist of the early era who had the chance to do some proper full-colour work. And for someone SO GOOD as black-and-white, it was a surprise to me how lush his colour work turned out – even if it was generally seen on more of those pesky Tharg stories. At least these ones focussed as much on Tharg’s droids as the man himself, so there’s that frisson of fun seeing some behind the scenes stuff, with droids drawn, one assumes, to resemble the actual background staff.


Except Burt. Burt doesn't look like Richard Burton.

This is not a good comic, but Bradbury is still giving a good go.


When they only came round once a year, these Thargs strips were perfectly welcome.
And boy does Bradbury draw the heck out of a totally gnarled troll-man.

More on Eric Bradbury:
Well, he's one of the rare 2000AD creators who merits his own Wikipedia page!

Personal favourites:

Tharg’s Future Shocks: Fish in a Barrel; 'ang about; Benjamin Blint
Time Twisters
: The Big Clock
(much as I admire his art generally, I can’t bring myself to say any of his work on Mean Arena or those Tharg strips stands out as ‘favourite’)

*The ‘95 Yearbook was published in Autumn 94; the Winter Special a few months later. OBVIOUSLY.


Just time for one last surprise!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

No. 138 Mike Dorey

First Prog: 6
Latest Prog: 409

Total appearances: 62

Why yes, that is an intentional reference to Samson pulling down the pillars of the Temple,
from that one Bible story (it's in Judges if you're interested)
Words by Geoff Miller*

Creator credits:

Psi Testers

No idea which, if any, comics artist invented the panel where the hero 'sees' the villain in
an extreme eye close-up - but it always works.
Words by Alan Hebden

Other art credits:
Victor Drago
Rogue Trooper
A handful of one-offs

If there's one series by Dorey you should check out, it's the original Invasion!
Words by Pat Mills / Gerry Finley Day
(although based on the pun, I'm inclined to credit Finley-Day with this panel specifically...)

Notable character creations:
Victor Drago, perhaps?
-This strip, from 2000AD tie-in comic Tornado, was conceived by editorial, and scripted by Chris Lowder, as new adventures of Sexton Blake, a hugely popular character from years ago. Presumably Mike Dorey drew him as such – but then at the last minute editorial determined they couldn’t use this non-IPC owned property, so gave him a cheeky name change, technically making him an all-new character. Did Dorey fix the art even a little bit to match (or some in-house bodger) – unknown! He doesn’t half look like Peter Cushing, either way…
Peter Cushing, of course, played a great version of Sherlock Holmes -
himself part of the blueprint for Sexton Blake

Notable characteristics:
The thickest blacks, and he’s not afraid to smudge them (using a j-cloth, it turns out).

Explosions of literal mud and metaphorical anger there.
Words by Steve MacManus

A function of the same stylistic choice, Dorey’s work oozes atmosphere.

MACH One is at its best when it's showing Probe diving / running / kicking his way through a story
Words by Pat Mills

He’s also keen on broad facial expressions that really let you into a characters head (nuance added as required, and in 2000AD, it often isn’t.) 

This must be from a Future Shock but I can't seem to track it down...

On Mike:
Mike Dorey is what you might call a proper unsung hero. He was a mainstay of the Prog’s early years, but not one who got much attention, despite being, in one very important respect, a huge part of nailing the ethos of 2000AD. To whit, unapologetic, glorious and above all enjoyable violence.

The very idea of using a London bus as a murder machine is funny.
Words by Gerry Finley-Day
Although he didn’t come onto the strip until Prog 8, Dorey is perhaps the key artist on Invasion!, which was, don’t forget, the opening thrill and tone setter for 2000AD for most of its first year. And what Dorey did better than any other artist (except, perhaps, for Jesus Blasco in the opening episode) was to draw Bill Savage offing Volgs in ridiculous ways, and looking dead happy about it. And, in a nutshell, that’s about 50% of the appeal of 2000AD – earned ultraviolence with an imaginative bent and a sociopathic heart.

See that pseudonym - that's a reference to his artistic tool of choice, the j-cloth.

Dorey did it so well he soon took over as the lead artist on the series, alternating(ish) with Carlos Pino. I could fill this post with pictures of a grinning, death-dealing Savage, but I’m going to restrain myself…

This one's for the Space Spinner boys...

Much the same trick saw him deliver the goods on MACH 1,

James Bond was never as fun as this...
Words by Charles Herring

Although it’s notable that he used a thinner line, and really emphasised the movement and action nature of that strip. What’s it like seeing a Hyper-powered man do thing no normal human could? Answer: pretty awesome!

In fact, this was before his stint on Invasion!, and while he could have done more with John Probe, for me it was a wise decision to keep Dorey with Bill Savage, as his thick inking far better suits the grubby, working class soldier in the mud nature of that war story.

That first panel showing Big Nessie putting the put in is pure Desperate Dan stuff,
but given a 2000AD makeover.
Words by Gerry Finley-Day

See also his work on MACH Zero, a working class riposte to the suaveness of MACH 1’s spy world.
Dorey was perhaps the perfect choice to develop the leage of Vagrants, London tramps who end up helping out poor Zero. It's all mud and pollution and oily hats.

MACH Zero is also another strip that combines a bizarre range of tones: comedy, tragedy and of course ultraviolence. Here's the villain named Cousin George indluging in a bit of bullying; Dorey mixes the comedy of a kick up the arse with the horror of burning a man's hand, selling the central core of  as both a bit silly, but also really quite moving.

An early example here of the 2000AD notion that people in capes are evil!
Words by Steve McManus

Let's move on to Dorey's work on Ro-Busters, another class war thrill with its themes often more memorable than its actual plots. Because this strip is all about robots, it’s inherently futuristic. But this is very much a run-down future, where the robots are unwashed, unloved and of course, rebellious. Dorey does well to hold his own on the epic story The Fall and Rise of Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein, sharing art duties with Mike McMahon and Kevin O’Neill. While they excel on setting and weirdness, Dorey brings great characterisation to the likes of Gottlieb and the human-looking crash test dummy.

There's a palpable melancholy here, which marks out Dorey even from the
greatness of McMahon or O'Neill.
Words by Pat Mills

One didn’t know it at the time, but once Ro-Busters was done, Dorey didn’t get a ton more work. There’s a bit of Victor Drago for Tornado, that short epilogue story for MACH Zero,

Best rendering of rain ever!
Words by Steve MacManus

some nonsense with Tharg...

Look how Dorey nails Tharg's inherent self-confidence and smugness
Words by Steve MacManus

and then just two outings on Rogue Trooper. He’s a good fit for all of those, perhaps most especially the grungey, earthy violence of Rogue. But, by that point perhaps Dorey was considered a little old fashioned, compared to hot new things Cam Kennedy, Colin Wilson and Brett Ewins. To my mind, Dorey does add his own texture to Nu Earth, and it’s horror – a vein Gerry Finley-Day could have tapped into more often had Dorey remained available, perhaps.

This just left Dorey going out with a bang on a moody, horror-tinged Time Twister:

Love these 'person going mad surrounded by jeering faces' panels
Words by Chris Lowder

and, nearly 100 Progs later, one of those thrills that sort of falls between being an extended Future Shock and a trial run for a new series: Psi Testers. Heck, at two episodes it’s not even a 3riller, although it would have fit that template perfectly had it existed back in 1984.

More j-cloth action, this time to represent psychic powers

Outside of Invasion!, this is easily my favourite Dorey work for the Prog, as it allows him to flex more story-telling and world-building muscles. Will we see him again? Seems unlikely, but for someone who set such a dramatic tone for the entire comic, it’s kind of sad that we’ve yet to see an artist who has anything like his skill with muddy, grinning ultraviolence.

And since writing up this post some months back, Dorey has indeed resurfaced! You can enjoy his wartime skills in the 2020 Action Special, drawing Hellman of Hammer Force.

More on Mike Dorey:
A proper good interview covering his whole career on the Thrillcast.

Personal favourites:
Rogue Trooper: Petrified Forest
Time Twisters: This is your Death
Psi Testers

*For some reason Dorey is credited as 'Mike Donaldson' on Barney for this story - pretty sure that's a typo. It's definitely Dorey! Writer 'Geoff Miller' may or may not be a pseudonym for Steve MacManus - anyone know anything about him, beyond his credit as scripter on Flesh II?