“I would like to write his death story, and have suggested it to Rebellion’: John Wagner on Judge Dredd, The Cursed Earth and his possible death
With the sell out success of The Cursed Earth hardback, both here in the UK and in the States, I caught up with John Wagner to discuss Dredd then, now and his future after, along with his working relationship with his artist and other subjects.
Olly MacNamee: As well as the sell out of the new uncensored Cursed Earth saga, there was the recent documentary celebrating 35 years of 2000AD, as well as the imminent arrival of prog 2000 in September as well. What keeps 2000AD so popular
John Wagner: Because the creators involved with 2000AD are always riffing off everyday life, and the modern world, or the way we see life going; what will be. That all sprang out of the Thatcher years and it would seem that the UK are back to those dark days of Thatcher once again. Politically, its a rather dark time we are going through and I think it’s going to get worse. Plenty to riff off again.
OM: Yes, and with the return of Fascist ideals, I can’t think of a better character to riff off this sad fact than Judge Dredd. How did you get involved with The Cursed Earth, given your stories are two of four strips seeing the light of day again.
JW: I did the Burger Wars story and the Las Vegas story. I think Pat (Mills) was snowed under with other work and he needed people to step in and help him out, but it was Pat’s story really.
OM: I’m surprised, given the UK’s strong history of parody and satire that these strips are only now coming to light, thanks to a change in the law back in 2014. Are you?
JW: At the time, I just didn’t think about any legal ramifications, and neither did 2000AD’s editorial, clearly. The truth is that had McDonalds or Green Giant decided to get rough, 2000AD could have ended there and then. I don’t claim to know about the changes to the law, but it’s good to see them reprinted at last.
OM: Have you been happily surprised by 2000AD’s recent success. The Zenith limited edition sold out and now The Cursed Earth too. Have Rebellion underestimated the hunger for 2000AD?
JW: I am surprised they did such a small run of the hardcover, before deciding to do a softcover edition but it’s really great that it’s sold out. There’s clearly a demand for these classic stories, and certainly theses banned strips.
OM: Yeah. I think this is my third version of the Cursed Earth saga that I own. I remember first the Eagle Comic reprints then the poorer, ironically titled Quality Comics’ reprints that, in the later issues especially, were a bit shoddily repackaged.
JW: I think Dez Skinn was involved with that. He felt it was a good idea to repackage them as American size comics, but I didn’t agree. But, there you go. I didn’t even know they were coming out until I saw them.
OM: I just remember the colouring being appalling. After all, the artwork was produced for an oversized, black and white comic, not the American model.
JW: Yes. You don’t need colour on (Mike) McMahon’s artwork. There were quite a lot of artists that were like that.
OM: Like Brian Bolland. I admire that he no longer does sketches, and so if you want an original Bolland piece, you just have to buy a comic; truly art for the masses. Are comics an art, or just a medium?
JW: It’s definitely an art. If novels are an art, then comics are an art. there should be no difference between one or the other. Having said that, you get a lot of crap comics, but some are truly wonderful. Look at what’s in the Tate sometimes, then look at some of the artists I’ve worked with.
OM: So, do you get to see the art before editorial? How does your relationship with the artist work?
JW: Editorial will get first look then send it over to me to edit the script against the art. Quite often the artist will do their own thing and the script will no longer fit the art, so you have to start messing about with it. Only occasionally I’ll ask the artist to redraw something but usually I’ll try and fit the story around the art. Simon Bisley, for example, was clearly an illustrator and you had to fit in with that. Even Carlos Ezquerra would sometimes say something like, “I forgot to put something in, could you deal with it?’
OM: Are you ever amazed when you see how an artist has interpreted your scripts?
JW: Always. I remember one of my stories Bolland he worked on. I thought my script was, at best, average but when I saw Brian’s rendition of it I thought that I wasn’t that bad after all. But, it can work the other way too. I have asked, sometimes, for artist never to be used on my stories again. But then, I image some artists have asked never to work on my stories again, either. that’s the way it can work. I have been lucky because I have worked with a lot of top notch artists throughout my career.
OM: What is the appeal of Judge Dredd? I was blown away by the recent Eric Powell (The Goon) Judge Dredd strip form the Free Comic Book Day giveaway issue of 2000AD…
JW: Everyone wants a Dredd in their portfolio, but I don’t write enough of them these days, maybe just a quarter or so of the stories each year.
OM: But you must still feel as though you have a huge stake in the character. Where would you see Dread’s journey finally coming to an end?
JW: I would like to write his death story, and have suggested it to Rebellion. I’ve thought about it for some time now. Fans have even suggested pooling their money together to get me and Carlos to create that comic. But, I couldn’t do it without Rebellion’s agreement. You never know. there may be an Elsewhere like story one day.
OM: Like Dredd’s Dark Knight?
JW: Yeah. It would be a lovely story to tell, but I would have to give it a lot more though, something like that. Not an epic, but maybe something as long as Dark Justice, a dozen or so episodes. The stories I like the most, though, are the one-off funny stories. It’s a difficult skill to have, making a short story that works well. A good story will bring the readers with it, and not isolate them. What writer would want to do that?
Olly MacNamee teaches English and Media, for his sins, in a school somewhere in Birmingham. Some days, even he doesn’t know where it is. Follow him on twitter@ollymacnamee or read about his exploits at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or don’t.
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