This July, “2000 AD” sister-title “Judge Dredd Megazine” debuts “Ordinary,” a new creator-owned series from frequent collaborators D’Israeli and Rob Williams. The new series takes place in a world where every person on the planet gains superpowers — except for a lone ordinary guy. And in a world where everyone is suddenly uniquely special, a man who’s nothing but ordinary becomes the most special thing of all.
D’Israeli rose to popularity in the early ’90s as the artist on “Lazarus Churchyard,” a series and character he co-created with Warren Ellis before going on to become one of the most prolific “2000 AD” artists of the last decade. Since then, the artist has gone on to co-create some of “2000 AD’s” most popular series including “Brass Sun,” “Leviathan” and “Stickleback” with Ian Edginton, “XTINCT” with Paul Cornell and “Lowlife” with his “Ordinary” co-creator Williams.
D’Israeli discussed “Ordinary” with Comic Book Resources, delving into the unique premise of the story, his eclectic artistic influences, the origin of his unusual penname and much more.
CBR News: What’s the story behind “Ordinary?”
D’Israeli: The idea is that one day, everybody in the world wakes up with some kind of special power. No two people get the same thing, it’s completely random, but suddenly, the whole world population is capable of extraordinary things, which means that every political dispute — hell, every personal dispute — suddenly has the potential to escalate into a small war.
Our hero, Michael, is the one guy in the whole world who hasn’t developed any powers — the last “ordinary Joe,” if you like. As the world situation spirals more and more out of control, finding a cure for the change becomes more and more urgent, and Michael’s very ordinariness makes him extremely valuable. But, of course, some people want him so he can help them with the cure, and others want to get rid of him so they can hold on to their powers.
It’s not a super-hero parody; we wanted to do something rather more interesting than that. What’s clever about Rob’s scripts is the way he uses the fantastic as a sort of spotlight to examine facets of the ordinary; relationships, fatherhood, what counts as failure and success. The challenge of drawing “Ordinary” so far (as of now I’m only about 12 pages in) is establishing the very ordinariness of the ordinary world so that the fantastical stuff that’s coming along will have the right impact. You need the contrast to make it work.
But at the same time, if you draw the mundane in a mundane way, it’s going to be dull to read, so there’s a balance to find. The stuff I’ve been drawing the past few days — ordinary street scenes as Michael’s on his way to work — are some of my favorite panels of anything I’ve drawn in the last few years. I’m not sure if anyone else will see a difference, but to me they have a particular vibe that I hope to build on as the story progresses.
Is “Ordinary” an ongoing series or a one-off?
It’s a one-off; there’s a finite ending and it would be hard to see how you could go beyond that. It’ll appear first in 14-16 page chunks in the [creator-owned] slot in “The Judge Dredd Megazine,” and then Titan books are already lined up to repackage it for the US market as a miniseries and graphic novel. Something I spent quite a bit of time working out at the start was how to format the pages so they’d work in both US comic format and the squarer “Megazine” pages!
You’ve returned to working with Rob williams several times over the course of your careers. What’s the working process like between the two of you?
In our previous collaborations (on “Lowlife” for “2000 AD”), I’d generally just get scripts from him and send him copies of the finished page when we were done. There was a lot more collaboration before the fact on “Ordinary.”
We’d originally started talking about doing a creator-owned project together when Rob saw a panel I drew of a giant spaceship landing in “Lowlife: Saudade” and got all fired up to a big space-opera thing. We discussed that for a bit, and then one day at the end of a meeting he mentioned the idea of “Ordinary” and asked if I fancied that. On first hearing, it didn’t really spark my imagination, and I turned it down — but it kept bubbling away at the back of my mind, and that evening I emailed him and asked if we could go ahead with it anyway. Luckily, Rob said yes!
For “Ordinary,” I supplied a fair number of ideas for characters — more than we can fit into the story, though one or two have made it to the final cut. I tend to get hung up on world-building and how the physics of stuff might work, whereas Rob as the writer keeps an eye on the important stuff like story and character!
The important thing is, we’ve worked together a fair bit, so he can play to my strengths. The details of the central characters are all carefully scripted, but there’s also a lot of descriptions like, “In the background, six characters are developing amazing powers. Go wild, Matt!”
Working with Rob has brought something out in me, or at least, made me more aware of something I could do; I’d always thought of myself as someone who could handle big, detailed, technically complex scenes like the shots of the ship in “Leviathan,” or the flooded city in “Lowlife: Creation, but when we finished that first “Lowlife” story, I was surprised to find that Rob had most valued my portrayal of the characters, their “acting” if you like, which I always thought I was very weak on. I’ve never asked, but it feels as if Rob expanded Dirty Frank’s emotional range to accommodate the way I drew him. With “Ordinary,” we’re taking that a step further and dealing with a lot of very fundamental stuff to do with fatherhood and family and failure in life. It should provide a terrific counterpoint to the fantastical stuff and give the whole story depth — provided I can pull it off, of course!
You just mentioned that Rob Williams refers to you by your given name of “Matt.” What’s the origin of your pen name, D’Israeli?
“D’Israeli” is the original family name of Benjamin Disraeli, who was a Tory prime minister in the 1860s. I picked it because I used to spend time in my ‘O’ level history class planning comics instead of working! The use of a pseudonym at all comes from two things; one is that at school I used to draw comics that took the Mick out of the teachers, and I thought if they were being passed round they’d better not have my own name on them. I stuck with it into my professional life as a tribute to the great French comic artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud, who has been a major influence on me since I first discovered his work at age sixteen.
Beyond Moebius, who are some of your other artistic influences?
The “big three” are probably Moebius, then Mike McMahon and Kev O’Neill, particularly from their “2000 AD” days. Those are the formative influences. More recently, I’ve been taking a lot of inspiration from the work of Uruguayan comic artist Alberto Breccia, father of Enrique Breccia. (Breccia mostly worked in the Argentinian comics industry, but was born in Uruguay. The Uruguayans are very proud of him and I always get emails if I describe him as Argentinian!) The unusual collage technique I use for “Stickleback” is derived from Breccia’s work on the political satire “Perramus” (1985). I’ve blogged about him extensively because I think he really is one of the world’s great comic artists, but shamefully little of his work is available in English.
Aside from that, I could go on for pages — Kirby, Ditko, John M Burns, Carlos Ezquerra, Arno, Ted McKeever, Jose Muñoz, Katsuhiro Otomo, Chester Brown, Hugo Pratt, Jacques Tardi, Enki Bilal — you’ll find bits of all of them in my work somewhere or other. Another two names that really need a mention are Steve Whitaker and Shane Oakley, who were both instrumental in my development as an artist. Both of them are/were (Steve sadly passed on in 2008) not only talented artists in their own right, but vast enthusiasts with an encyclopedic knowledge of comics and comic art. Steve produced very little finished work — he was best known as a colorist — but Shane’s work on “Albion” and “Channel Evil” is seriously worth checking out. He has an understanding of design and light that I can only dream of.
How would you describe your own style?
Putting “Stickleback” aside for a second, I think what I’ve got going is a sort of tension between the laid-back, three-dimensional world-building of Franco-Belgian comics and the more dynamic, character-oriented storytelling of UK and US comics (particularly ’60s Marvel). It’s kind of clean-line, but more immediate and dynamic. The idea is to push forward character and emotion, but always root it in a solid-seeming, three-dimensional world. This is where “Ordinary” is going.
“Stickleback” is a different kettle of fish; I’m playing with a different toolset entirely. If you imagine Mick McMahon layouts, Kev O’Neill pencils and Alberto Breccia collage finishes, that’s about it. Or to put it more simply: bugfuck! [Laughs]
What’s common to both strands is clarity, always clarity. Comics tell stories; you have to be able to “read” the drawings and understand what’s going on. If you can’t do that, there’s no point.
How many different “2000 AD” and “Judge Dredd Megazine” strips are regular penciling now? Between “Stickleback,” “Lowlife,” “Brass Sun” and the rest, when do you have time to sleep?
I’m not that fast, either! The simple answer is, I’m usually booked up at least a year in advance. It makes a pleasant change from the early days of my career, I can tell you!
What’s your favorite character to draw you didn’t create? Favorite you helped to create?
Didn’t create: Dirty Frank from “Lowlife.” Bearded, smelly, and with only a tangential grip on reality, I related to the character straight away! [Laughs]
Helped to create: probably Black Bob and Tonga from “Stickleback.” I just love that we managed to get a black, gay couple into “2000 AD” without making it any sort of big deal.
Did you grow up reading “2000 AD?”
When “2000 AD” first came out, I’d be about ten, I was still reading Marvel UK comics, so I sort of missed it (my mum would only buy me one regular comic at a time). I remember my best mate at school taking me aside and showing me the double-page ad for it that ran in “Battle” or whatever the week before it launched. I got odd issues (the first was prog 11, with Brian Bolland’s first cover for “2000 AD”), but it was always something my mates got and had a sort of extra mystique for the half-glimpsed things I saw in their copies.
I started getting the companion comic, “Starlord,” when that came out in 1978, and stayed with it when it merged with “2000 AD” six months later, so I’d be 11 or 12 then. I stuck with “2000 AD” all through school and college, finally giving it up in 1988; that was the period when “2000 AD” was becoming a stepping stone to a career in the US. They were constantly having artists poached by DC and Marvel, and the quality was really suffering. I looked at odd issues, but didn’t pick it up again until 1998, when I started working for them as a colorist and got on the freebies list — but happily, that did coincide with David Bishop dragging the prog back to its roots, so things were looking up.
If you’d asked 11-year-old me what job I wanted when I grew up, artist for “2000 AD” would have been right up at the top of the list. I got to do the job I wanted as a kid, and it it’s as good as I imagined it would be. I’ll still whine about day-to-day stuff, but holy fuck I am lucky!
“Ordinary,” by D’Israeli and Rob Williams, debuts in “Judge Dredd Megazine” issue 338, on sale July 17 in UK comic shops and digitally worldwide.
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