The future shines brightly on 2000AD

Today I wanted to chat about my favourite comic for a bit, as not only has it been a while since I last did, but the landmark Prog 1900 will be arriving on my doorstep this Saturday, bringing with it the return of two series’ I’ve sorely missed – Kingdom by Dan Abnett and Richard Elson (I recently got my hands on the first novel adaptation of the series too, Fiefdom, written collaboratively between Dan and his wife, Nik-Vincent), and Stickleback by Ian Edginton, a man whose second name I’ve been spelling incorrectly until now on this blog, and D’Israeli. And if the return of these two stellar series’ wasn’t enough, a new Dredd epic by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra will be beginning too. Nice, eh?

This means you can expect a review of that Prog, and maybe when they’re done, some of the series’ (Greysuit is also returning after a fairly lengthy hiatus and should be interesting) too. Definitely the latest epic at least, seeing as I imagine that it’ll either be the last major Dredd arc for the year or the one story leading us straight into the next epic, Dark Justice of Prog 2015, or possibly even both.

Also coming up on the blog, I wanted to talk about comic books themselves and how well I think the various companies publish them. It’s something I’ve wanted to talk about since the moment one of DC’s trade paperbacks pissed me off with its awful binding (I believe it was Batman: Hush), but it was receiving a free copy of Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu Earth Vol. 4 earlier today for getting my letter published in the most recent issue of the Megazine, #352, that made me want to write about the subject soonish, as it suddenly occurred to me while skimming through the book how comfortable and easy it is to read compared to a DC or Vertigo book. On the subject of those two companies, I may even bemoan advertisements in single issues and how much those two take the piss there too.

But back to the subject at hand – 2000AD’s future.

The comic’s in an interesting position at the moment. In fact, it’s been in an interesting position for quite some time. My first subscription started shortly after I started buying the comic regularly with Prog 2006. It had only one major low in that whole time in my opinion, which was the weeks in which Stalag 666 endlessly dragged on. A horribly generic story with some poor early art by Jon Davis-Hunt that did nothing to help, I really didn’t like it. Not enough to go insane and send its writer, Tony Lee, my shit smeared on an angry letter, but I consider it my major low point with the comic.

Then my subscription ended several weeks into the year 2009 and I didn’t bother to re-new it or buy the comic from a nearby WHSmith again. Those first however-many weeks of 2009’s Prog’s didn’t impress me. As I recall, the series’ running at this time besides Dredd were Strontium Dogs, the second story arc of Greysuit, Marauder and something else. Whatever that last one was, Strontium Dogs was the only thing keeping me happy week to week (even the Dredd tale by Wagner wasn’t doing it for me), and seeing as this was all following closely after Stalag 666, I thought that the comic was maybe losing its steam, which is why I decided that I could always start again years later, which I have done. But as it turns out, the comic wasn’t losing its momentum at all.

Okay, so a second long Tony Lee scripted tale, Necrophim, actually started shortly after I left and seems to have been as well received as the first (so not very well at all), but allow me to list some of what I missed that was utterly incredible.

– If I had remained subscribed for another two fucking weeks I would have saw the start of a new Low Life story arc, possibly still the best in that series to date: Creation, the story in which Rob Williams decided to draw focus away from Aimee Nixon and to Dirty Frank instead, his iconic hairy, smelly and weird undercover Judge who refers to himself in third person in conversation with other characters. Also, D’Israeli became the new leading artist of the series after Simon Coleby and Henry Flint before him and he knocked it out the fucking park. You can probably see where this is going.

– Nikolai Dante picked off from where I left – at what was probably another amazing cliffhanger or plot twist by Robbie Morrison in other words – and continued to be incredible for the next couple of years, before ending as spectacularly as promised in 2012, or so glowing reviews suggest. Fuck.

– Savage returned and you can’t go wrong with that action-packed series. Neither can you with Zombo, an over-the-top, completely mental comedy by Al Ewing and Henry Flint that’s rapidly become a fan favourite and for good reason: it’s genuinely funny and has been raised the crazy stakes with each new story.

– Cradlegrave by John Smith and Edmund Bagwell, one of my personal favourite comics of all time (it really needs a review, come to think of it) and certainly one of the best stories published in 2000AD, not to mention proof that horror can actually work within the medium, started the week after these two and I fucking missed it. Goddamnit.

– Skip forward a few weeks and the latest series of Defoe started where Slaine: The Wanderer ended. Skip to the last stretch of the year and the latest series’ of Kingdom and Shakara came and went as all the while Dredd was continuously excellent and Wagner secretly built towards the Day of Chaos storyline and I missed it all damn me to hell.

Not a weak year at all, is it? And hopefully this little list highlights just how consistent 2000AD can carry itself week to week, which I personally believe it has been doing since at least I started collecting it, though was probably doing so years before I started, especially whenever Matt Smith took over as editor.

Now, where is all this going?

Well, in just these last few years, especially after the success of Dredd 3D, 2000AD’s made a number of small but interesting decisions. When I initially collected the comic, they changed the logo to what we see today with what’s technically two different logos at once, and then while I was not collecting it (it looks like this went on between 2011 and 2012) they changed it again briefly, and I have to say that I actually preferred this version of the main logo they’d been using, where the Prog number was clearly visible underneath in a small rectangle at the top of the front cover instead of down at the bottom now (on either the left or right hand side – so it’s not even consistent, much like the spines of their trade paperbacks, ho ho ho!). Whatever the case, they’re changing it again with Prog 1900.

Well, I say “they”, but it’s the work of Pye Parr, their graphic designer, who’s been fooling around with some of the graphic novel releases and has designed the upcoming and gorgeous looking Zenith collection, which I’ll be talking about again shortly. This new design, he said in a fairly recent podcast, is intended to emphasise the logo they’ve returned to after 2011’s small change – and to be fair, whether I liked the brief replacement or not, they have been using this one for years now – and to really sell this as their brand the way Marvel and DC’s are instantly recognisable, and to really stick to it this time, and put it everywhere: their graphic novels, merchandise, anything media-related – even the Megazine will apparently have it.

This is all in an effort to make the comic appeal to wider audiences, especially overseas in America where they’ve been releasing their Dredd 3D-set stories, as well as Brass Sun, and now Jaegir, all three of which have emphasised the logo very clearly, and with the issue number underneath. Only on Saturday will we be able to tell if this is what will happen to our beloved Progs, but I’d be delighted if it were the case, as I think these look smashing. It would mean this small top left corner of the Prog would block the art, where previously the purpose of the two logos was to let the art run wild, covering one logo but not the other (not always, mind you, much to some people’s dismay), but I wouldn’t mind at all, especially if it ends up serving a greater good. It was pointed out in the podcast I mentioned that, flicking through a collection of these comics, it’s hard to find the Prog you’re looking for since the number’s always moving, so I’d welcome a consistent look for that too.

Anyway, let’s stop talking about the logo and move on to these US-sized comics themselves, shall we? These have been done in the past several times, but I neither know how successful the Eagle books and other stuff were nor care – that was the past and this is now, and right now it’s 2000AD themselves doing the publishing of these three. And my honest opinion of the job they’ve done so far? Well, they’re excellent, the quality of these things being through the roof, and rightly so. What better way to sell these overseas than to use eye-catching, high quality covers and excellent paper stock, and to only interrupt the tale in each with a measly two adverts, letting the story and artwork inside do the talking? Nothing’s better. In fact, the only way these could be any more fantastic is if they followed in Image’s footsteps and included back papers for letters, articles or whatever else they could think of, which may not be a bad idea if they decide to release more stories like Jaegir, where some background on the universe could help new readers settle in.

So what about sales figures? How are these things doing? Well, truthfully, not much has been said about the latter two series’ at all, but the former has been doing well enough with Underbelly alone that that story’s entering a third printing this October, and they’re confident enough with its sequel, Uprise, which is currently running in the Megazine, that they’re releasing limited variant covers for its two issues – the first also released next month by the way – in further efforts to “test the waters”, I suppose (because these things do sell).

The somewhat negative aspect to all this is that the stories being published right now – and potentially others in the near future – are not the monthly comics of the US, but reprints collecting what are actually weekly instalments into one part. This is all fine and well for the Underbelly and Jaegir one-shots, which are very self-contained tales and paced perfectly for that number of pages, but it was never really the intention for Brass Sun to be collected in 32 page instalments, was it? It’s very much a weekly comic – just look back at the third series finished in Prog 1899 with its cliffhangers nearly every week (and while you’re at it, do the same for some of the other series’ that have been running recently too) – and much of what could next be reprinted will only be the same.

Of course, they’re not going to change the Prog to a larger monthly comic for the sake of this, so the next logical step is obviously to attract readers to the weekly comic itself, to bring them over to a style they’re unfamiliar with, perhaps done best by getting them invested in some of the series’ the comic’s ran in the past. But you can’t exactly force on it on them either by continuously releasing stories like Brass Sun not perfectly suited to monthly instalments, can you? No doubt there’s good stuff to be found that could work but then you’re also running risk of dropping new readers in the middle of nowhere like Jaegir. What might actually be an interesting experiment, come to think of it, would be to release 32 page collections of Future Shocks featuring either the writing or art of those people who went on to become hugely successful with American audiences after their work on the comic. Or you could try a different approach, and this is where IDW enters the room.

For those of you not in the know, IDW is a US publisher probably best known for their incredible Artist Editions, books which reprint entire stories with scanned pages of their original artwork in their full, glorious size, and when it comes to series’, Locke and Key and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles seem to be their most popular titles. Although I’m not sure exactly when they started working in unison with 2000AD (I could in fact swear that I’ve read their main series before in digital format years and years ago, although I could just as easily be confusing the artist with a spin-off older than IDW’s that he or she maybe also worked on?), they have a stake in the comic of their own now.

Their main emphasis is on Dredd, releasing their own line of stories that put a new spin on the universe. Frankly speaking, this is what sounds like the worst of what they’re doing, by all accounts some pretty terrible stuff that isn’t doing a good job at selling the universe. However, they’ve also been releasing issues collecting the “classics”, with brand spanking new colouring. They have…pretty…terrible covers, but at least it’s pushing stories like The Apocalypse War out to new audiences, right?

But what really seem to be doing the best job at introducing new audiences to the world – and seemingly are the best that IDW are publishing, according to most fans – are Matt Smith’s scripted takes on the character, a Year One re-imagining of Dredd’s origins, but in keeping with the spirit of the character, and now a similar concept for Anderson in a new Psi-Division series. And then there’s Douglas Wolk’s Mega City Two, the only one I have read, but one that I can tell you is absolutely amazing and well worth checking it out.

What’s great is that it’s not just Dredd getting such nice treatment. Both Rogue Trooper and Sinister Dexter are getting good attention paid to them, the former similar classics reprinted in new colour, but both entirely new series’, which are apparently pretty good. But it’s the fact that both still even exist, aren’t cancelled, that gets my hopes up for other series’ to join them in the future because let’s face it: neither of those are the best we have to offer, are they? Whatever the case, it all helps get 2000AD out to the uninitiated at the end of the day, doesn’t it? Who can complain about that?

Christ, I’ve talked this long about IDW and haven’t even mentioned the bloody fantastic hardcover collections they’ve been releasing for Dredd. For one, the re-coloured Apocalypse War has a rather nice book, and Judge Death will seemingly follow (hopefully with a less horrific cover, mind you). But the real cool ones are the Complete collections focusing on three artists: Brian Bolland, Carlos Ezquerra and Cam Kennedy. Oh yes, these are nice, and the first two even have some lovely signed, limited editions in slipcases and everything. Cor!

Actually, I lied – I didn’t forget these at all. It’s just the perfect segue I needed to talk next about 2000AD’s own selection of hardcovers that they’ve been pushing out the door.

It’s kinda funny, but somewhere in this blog, very early on I think, I complained how 2000AD were strictly all about the trade paperbacks. Those are pretty nice with their sewn binding of course – I wouldn’t have bothered mentioning a potential future blog entry if they weren’t as comfortable to read as I say – but I felt that they were really missing some attractive shelf pieces, especially books with not-shit spines, and yet was completely unaware that they actually did already have a few, with more on the way.

I won’t list them all, but from the Volgan War’s 96 page hardcovers with their overblown Clint Langley artwork with additional pages and no gutter loss whatsoever, to art books like Slaine: The Book of Scars and The Art of Judge Dredd (and it looks like we’ll be getting a Judge Dredd Sketch Book soon too, compiling unseen artwork); from the Mek Files reigning superior over the Complete Case Files and similar books with proper reproduction of the Prog’s whilst actually managing to live up to the promise of being, you know, complete, to consistent spines (I had to mention them!); and from a few signed and limited edition books to the upcoming Zenith, Brass Sun and Daily Dredd collections to decorate your shelves with in similar oversized formats of the above, 2000AD have simply never published books this bloody good before.

And if you can’t tell, I really, really want more like them, especially as many of these put the inconsistently designed paperbacks to great shame.

And, well, I may have gotten my wish. We’ve very recently found out that Hachette Partworks, a company who has been releasing two large Marvel collections for the past couple of years in fairly high quality hardcovers (considering their price), are starting a new series for the world of Judge Dredd, and oh my god, it looks amazing. It’s all well and good to recommend new fans try reading the Complete Case Files Vol. 5 first and see how they like The Apocalypse War, or to instead try America, or Origins, or even the recent Day of Chaos – because the strip is surprisingly easy to jump into at any point – but you know what’s an even better than those options? To be introduced in style, in the form of sexy hardcovers, with back papers discussing the history of the comic and its creators, with recommended further reading to help ease you in elsewhere. That is better.

Not exactly sure when these are coming out, but after some brief debating, I subscribed for the free gifts myself. They’re being given a trial run of the first four books listed on their site and here’s really hoping they take off, because I imagine if they’re successful enough, they stand an even higher chance of reaching an American audience than all of the above I’ve mentioned, simply because of that Marvel series they run.

Does all of the above cover everything?

I think so. No, wait. While I was gone the comics also went digital – the good DRM-free kind no less – and e-novellas are being released with hopefully many more to come.

Okay, I think I’ve discussed everything I set out to now.

The purpose of all I’ve talked about so far – not mine, but 2000AD’s I mean – is to really sell all the amazing and wonderful series’ outside of Judge Dredd that they have, to really attract newcomers to the weird and brilliant stories we’re so fortunate to be used to but that they’re not, and I think this opens up all sorts of exciting possibilities for the future if they can truly draw in this bigger audience. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy about the state the comic’s in now, but I can’t imagine how many more talented creators would jump on board if they suddenly found out about the comic and what excellent stories and artwork these people could bring us. Nor can I imagine how much the production values of both the regular comic and the Megazine could increase by, not to mention the collected books themselves. Wishfully thinking now, if you’re jealous of Marvel and all their great films, just imagine what some of our favourite series’ could look like on the big screen.

At the end of the day, make no mistake: whatever happens – whether their attempts to reel in this different crowd are successful or not – it’s an exciting time to be a 2000AD fan and there’s simply no better time to jump on board if you’re not one already.

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The Great Judge Dredd Megazine Catch Up, Part 4: The Graphic Novel Reprints

Well, we’re here at last. In this final entry for the series – and longest entry in the blog by far – I’ll be going through every damn floppy in my possession that comes bagged with all copies of the Megazine these days. Interestingly enough, I discovered that they’ve included these reprints for quite some time after buying a limited printing copy of Megazine 211 recently. The difference then was that the reprints would be inside the Megazine itself, doubling its length from the 64 pages it comes in today. The advantage of that method was that it would be printed in the same large size, whereas these floppies are slightly smaller, condensed versions of strips. The paper stock’s also thinner, meaning there’s much more noticeable bleeding of inks from the other side of a page.

It’s great that they’re included though, and they’re just a fantastic idea in general I think, giving readers a look at strips that they may have missed, particularly since the majority of these will probably never see the light of day in a proper collection, since there’s not exactly any demand for them.

Before I go, note that I’ve listed all of these in alphabetical order, instead of by their accompanied Megazine number, to make for easier reading. What issue of the Meg they were released with is still there though, as are the respective areas of first publication, hopefully letting those of you looking to pick a particular one up find the copy of the Megazine or 2000AD you’re looking for. Also note that, once again, the pictures aren’t mine, but property of their respective owners whom I’ve always linked.

So enjoy the post, and I’ll see you when I get back from my holiday.

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The Great Judge Dredd Megazine Catch Up, Part 3: The Long Series’

If you’re looking at the list after the break and wondering where Insurrection is, I point you to my review of the entire series here. My thoughts on every other significant long-running series is in this post, so do enjoy, and please note once more that all images used are the property of their respective owners.

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