This year, IDW Publishing brings another iconic British hero to American shores. IDW, which also publishes “Doctor Who,” has acquired the license to create new “Judge Dredd” comics and reprint classic material. Debuting in the second issue of the weekly “2000 AD” comics anthology magazine in 1977, Dredd passes judgement on the perps of Mega-City One in a sci-fi future where all functions of law enforcement are carried out by the officers on the ground, as the Judges simultaneously make arrests, issue verdicts and administer punishments, up to and including the death penalty. Created by John Wagner, Pat Mills, and Carlos Ezquerra, Judge Dredd is notable for his unswerving adherence to the law and for never removing his helmet — except in the much-maligned 1995 film starring Sylvester Stalone.
Following the announcement of the license at WonderCon, Comic Book Resources spoke with IDW Chief Creative Officer and Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall for more details about plans for the character and how the publisher is approaching this particular license.
Ryall told CBR that IDW’s process of acquiring new licenses often begins with a simple question: “Did we like it in our childhood?” Ryall’s first exposure to Judge Dredd came in the early 1980s, when Eagle Publishing reprinted some of the “2000 AD” strips in the United States. “I didn’t know who Judge Dredd was at the time, but Brian Bolland drew them, and I think that was when I was reading ‘Camelot 3000.’ They were just these amazing comics,” Ryall recalled. “The stories were great, Brian Bolland’s art was just phenomenal, so I’ve sort of had a Judge Dredd jones since then. It’s one of those that we really always wanted to do here, we just didn’t think it was going to be possible for various reasons.”
The IDW chief said that discussions with “2000 AD” and parent company Rebellion picked up over the last year, when “it started to become this thing that was very possible.” “Man, I was really hopeful on this one, I really wanted to make it work,” Ryall told CBR. “It’s been a long time since there’s been Judge Dredd comics done in the US. I know the ‘2000 AD’ books have been going strong, but I’m really excited about reintroducing Dredd and doing what we do with properties, as well as taking that classic material and doing really nice, high end or maybe colored versions of these things for the first time.”
Ryall said the selection of stories and the formats for any reprint editions have not yet been settled on, but IDW’s current platform should give an indication of the publisher’s plans for “Judge Dredd” archival editions. “I liken this one to what we’ve done with ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,’ where we’ve launched a new book that is a tribute to everything that’s gone before but takes things in a new direction, but then we’ve got a good reprint program going where we’ve got the deluxe versions of the Eastman-Laird stuff, we’ve got trade paperbacks — we’re also coloring some of the old material,” Ryall told CBR. “We’re going to do some of that stuff here. We’ll do some books where we just spotlight some of the great creators who have done the property, we’ll look to do some of the bigger stories or just chronologically… there’s so much we can do with that wealth of material. I’m really looking forward to getting started.”
One notable difference between the “Turtles” franchise and “Judge Dredd,” however, is that IDW became the sole publisher of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” when it acquired that license, giving it the opportunity to reboot the property, whereas “Judge Dredd” is still very much an ongoing concern in the pages of “2000 AD” and “Judge Dredd Megazine.” CBR News asked Ryall about how the relationship between IDW’s Dredd and the British original would operate. “We’re still talking different creative treatments and things that we can do,” he said. “When I was over there at the London Super Con, I met with the guys from 2000 AD, Ben and Matt Smith and Keith Richardson, and we talked about the things that we could do. Their Dredd ages in real time, so he’s 70 years old at this point — I think we all agreed that starting with a 70-year-old character on this side wouldn’t make it the most accessible thing. I don’t know that we’ll quite do the ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ version where we’ll have Dredd back in high school, but I think there will be some version where it will be a great jumping on point and great starting point for people that may have heard of the character or only know him from what they’ve read online or (god help us) the old movie. I think it’ll be some form that makes it welcoming and accessible to new readers, as well.”
After a pause, Ryall added, “And we’ll probably try to make him an alien, just to go along with the ‘Ninja Turtles’ thing.”
Continuing on the vein of accessibility, CBR News asked Ryall whether IDW’s “Dredd” would incorporate nods to American culture, similar to how “2000 AD’s” strips have, through the years, shown analogues for locations in the UK and parodied political figures of the day. “I think we’re targeting everybody, but we’ll certainly be telling the stories with less British sensibility just by the fact that we’re not British,” Ryall said. “But Mega-City One is on the East Coast of the United States, so it is basically New York and New Jersey and all of that. I think that having stories set in that same area, as well, I think it’s going to be the sort of thing American fans can get right into. Just like the old ‘Dredds’ were a blast for me to read because it was a different perspective on American culture and a real satire on the things that had been going on in the ’80s and ’90s, we’ve got the ability to do that sort of thing here, with whatever creators we happen to have on the book, whatever their sensibilities bring to the project.”
In addition to plans for an original series and reprint editions, Ryall suggested during his WonderCon announcement that a whole program of “Judge Dredd” material is on its way. “We’ve been making big plans, but it’s a little too soon to talk specifically about them. ‘Dredd’ is a very important thing to us, we’re having a blast with it, and we’re going to do an awful lot of things,” Ryall told CBR. “I think people are going to see Dredd back in a really big way. I think the one thing that people know about IDW when we take on a license is, we come out of the gate strong on these. And whatever your tastes may be, whether it’s the old material or high-end collections or just trade paperbacks or new comics, there’s a wide array of material. We’re certainly going to take that same approach that we’ve taken with ‘Transformers’ and the ‘Turtles’ and others, and that as much as anything is what showed 2000 AD we’d be a good partner for this.
“The nice thing, too, is it’s the 35th anniversary of Dredd, and there’s the movie opening, there’s going to be a lot of attention on the character as it is, and we’ll be looking to add on to that.” Ryall confirmed that the comics will be available in the UK and on digital platforms. “Yeah, we were able to work around those sticking points on some of the other brands,” he said, laughing slightly. “Digitally, in print, English speaking countries across the world, and hopefully everywhere else that wants them, as well.”
Though, as he stressed throughout the interview, IDW’s “Judge Dredd” is still in the planning stages, Ryall was able to make one definitive statement about the publisher’s direction for the series: “I can promise to everybody that you will not see Joe Dredd without his helmet on.”