Andy Diggle is no stranger to revivals. Having made his name in North America on the Vertigo reimagining of the classic DC Comics series “The Losers” alongside his longtime artistic collaborator Jock, Diggle is now turning his talents to reviving yet another classic comic series. The only difference this time is that Diggle is resurrecting his own work with “Lenny Zero: Zero’s 7,” featuring Ben Willsher taking over for original “Lenny Zero” artist Jock.
The original “Lenny Zero” debuted in the pages of the “Judge Dredd Megazine” over a decade ago. Set in Judge Dredd’s world of Mega-City One, “Lenny Zero” tells the story of an undercover Judge who turns to a life of crime to pay the bills. After turning rogue, Zero had a few outings in “Judge Dredd Megazine” before disappearing from the book completely in 2002 as Diggle set his sights on the North American market.
Diggle spoke with Comic Book Resources about returning to his fan-favorite character, what to expect in the new story and his thoughts on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter.
CBR News: Can you explain who Lenny Zero is for those who may not be familiar with the character?
Andy Diggle: Lenny used to be a Judge in Justice Department’s Undercover Division — what’s known in Mega-City One as the “Wally Squad.” After being implicated by a vicious gangster, he went rogue, double-crossing the mob and Justice Department both. Unfortunately for Lenny, his lover turned out to be a member of the notorious Special Judicial Squad — the Judges who judge the Judges. Betrayed and broken-hearted, Lenny barely escaped with his life.
What’s been doing on in Zero’s life for the past decade? Mega-City One stories occur in real time, and you have to assume that even though he’s a lowlife, Zero hasn’t actually been laying low this whole time.
He’s been getting by as an independent thief and grifter in the Big Meg, trying to hustle up enough cash to get himself off-world in style. Things haven’t gone his way, and now he’s badly in debt to the robot mafia. He needs a big-time score, and soon, or the robots are going to sell him for body parts.
Will the new story delve any further into Zero’s past as a Judge?
Not so much. There’s a part of him that’s still smarting from the betrayal of his former lover, and that’ll get a look-in here, but I always envisioned Lenny simply as a crook, an Elmore Leonard-style character in Mega-City One. Once I introduced the Judge angle, it ended up taking over the whole story. Now, I’d like him to leave all that behind, so we can just get on with the crazy capers.
Why the switch from the “Judge Dredd Megazine” to “2000 AD” for Zero’s latest adventure?
I think the fast-paced nature of the caper lends itself to short, tight weekly episodes. Hopefully the readers will, too.
There have been three previous Lenny Zero stories: the original done-in-one story and two follow-up two-parters. This new chapter, however, is set to last longer than all of the previous tales combined. Did you always plan to bring the character back in such an epic fashion?
I wanted to do a classic heist caper with a Mega-City twist, and those kinds of stories work best with a big cast. I’ve had fun coming up with the weird and wonderful collection of oddballs in Lenny’s crew, including a talking bear and a sentient ATM called Johnny Cash. There are also a few familiar faces from progs past, which I won’t spoil here, but hopefully old school readers will get a kick out of seeing them again.
Who exactly are “Zero’s Seven?” How do they come together?
Lenny puts the crew together, starting with Shuggy Bear, a sentient polar bear who runs a shuggy hall (shuggy being the Mega-City One equivalent of pool). He’s the bankroll. Then there’s Mink, a psi who works for the robot mafia. Their inside man is Johnny Cash, an ATM at the First Megapolitan Bank. Afro Dizzy is a designer drug diva who mixes up mind-altering clouds for Big Meg clubbers. The last two members of the crew will be familiar to long-time readers, so I don’t want to spoil them.
Do you have any plans for Zero to interact with “2000 AD’s” other popular undercover Judge, Dirty Frank, from Rob William and D’Israeli’s series “Lowlife?”
It’s not something we’ve discussed, but it would be fun for Lenny to have a run-in with Dirty Frank or the Simping Detective. Maybe I should run it past Rob Williams and Si Spurrier.
Zero has had run-ins with Dredd before. Should we expect to see the pair tussle again this time around?
It was pretty cool having Lenny run into Dredd because it was so unexpected. But it also felt a bit cheeky, with Lenny gaining the upper hand — that’s not something that tends to happen with Dredd. So out of respect for Dredd, I think I’ll probably keep him out of Lenny’s adventures for the foreseeable future. Otherwise, Lenny would just end up dead on a slab — or incarcerated on the penal colony on Titan!
Can we hope to see “Lenny Zero” become a mainstay in “2000 AD” this time around?
I have a sequel in mind — hopefully something readers won’t see coming — but honestly, I don’t know when I’ll have the time to write it. My schedule is pretty full for the rest of this year — “Doctor Who” for IDW, plus a couple of other monthly books I’m not allowed to talk about yet. So we’ll see. Hopefully someday!
“Lenny Zero” really kick-started your writing career. Do you hold a special place in your heart for the series? It can’t be a coincidence that Zero is returning the same year you’ve decided to make a go at doing more creator-owned material.
Lenny definitely helped to put me on the map. I showed that first 10-page story to Will Dennis at Vertigo, which helped open the door to “Lady Constantine” and “The Losers.” I’ll always be grateful to Will for that opportunity. And, of course, it was the first time I’d ever worked with Jock, and we’re now on our fourth project together — or fifth, if you include advertising work. So yeah, I owe Lenny a lot. At the same time, I was very much learning the ropes when I wrote those early stories. Hopefully my work is a little more polished now.
Jock always seems to be at his best when he is penciling your scripts and, likewise, no one seems to understand the over-the-top violent kineticism in your work like him. Why is it you two mesh so well together?
You’re right about Jock, I’m lucky to have been able to work with him so much. He definitely brings a certain special something. We’re currently doing the creator-owned series “Snapshot” together, while Ben Willsher’s drawing the new “Lenny Zero.”
I don’t have to over-explain when I’m writing scripts for Jock — he just “gets it.” He has a great design sense and an innate gift for storytelling. I guess we both like to build a story out of punchy visual moments, and Jock really knows how to sell those moments on the page. Though I have to say, he and Scott Snyder really clicked on “Batman,” don’t you think?
Do you envision a day when you and Jock have a long-running creator owned series together like “Preacher” or “The Walking Dead?”
I’m certainly interested in doing more creator-owned work, but I doubt it’d be ongoing — I prefer the miniseries. I have lots of different stories I’m dying to tell, and lots of artists who seem keen to draw them. It’s just a question of timing. It’s exciting to see Kickstarter finally coming to the UK this autumn. That’s something I’m keen to dive into.
What is it about Kickstarter that has you so excited, and how do you think it could affect the UK market? Do you have anything in particular in mind to use it for?
Clearly, we’re in the early stages of a phase transition shift in the way comics are produced and distributed, much like what happened when music made the jump from CD to digital. Nobody really knows how it’s going to shake out, yet. Old methodologies will crumble, but there will also be great opportunities for people who are willing to embrace change and seize the initiative.Â Crowdfunding — and Kickstarter is the most successful platform, by an order of magnitude — gives creators the means to create comics and pre-sell them direct to their fans. That’s huge. Many creators are more than happy to write and draw their favorite characters for the Big Two, and that’s awesome. I’ve had a blast doing that and hope to continue doing so. But if you want to go and create your own characters as well, Kickstarter’s a great way of funding it.
There are a few separate threads in the comics industry that seem to be twining together right now. One is the increased corporatism of Marvel and DC, since they’ve been taken over by Disney and Warner Bros respectively. Both have placed a greater emphasis on branding themselves around their core characters, and the more peripheral titles got slashed. You don’t see Elseworlds or inter-company crossovers any more, because they dilute the brand. Combined with that, you have a rising awareness of creator rights issues around things like “Before Watchmen” and “The Avengers.” Combined with that, you have the rising success of creator-owned work coming out of Image, spearheaded by the runaway success of “The Walking Dead.” You have the rise of digital distribution, which allows creators to sell their work direct to the reader, cutting out several layers of middlemen.
And, of course, you have new hardware — the rise of the tablet, which is great for reading comics. iPads started out as expensive, first-adopter hardware, but this technology gets cheaper and faster every year. Remember how expensive MP3 players were when they first came out? Now you can buy one for the price of a pint of beer. The same thing’s happening with tablets — in five years, every kid is going to have a cheap, plastic iPad knockoff that runs faster than shit off a shovel.
Put all of these factors together, and the truth is that nobody really knows what the comics market will look like in five years. But I believe creator-owned comics could benefit massively, and Kickstarter can play an important role in helping creators pay the bills while they pour their passion and energy into their own projects for the own readership, working independently. Everybody wins!
“Lenny Zero: Zero’s 7” by Andy Diggle and Ben Willsher begins in “2000 AD” prog 1792, available now in the UK and in North America.