This January, IDW Publishing sends Judge Dredd west in “Mega-City Two,” a five-issue limited series by writer Douglas Wolk and artist Ulises Farinas. Dredd is up to his chin in trouble when he arrives in the eponymous West Coast equivalent of Mega-City One, described by Wolk as “what happens when the very worst cloverleaf in Los Angeles metastasizes to take over California.”
CBR News spoke with Wolk and Farinas about why it’s time for Dredd to head to the West Coast, the reason “Mega-City Two” needed to come from an “outsider’s perspective,” Farinas’ “obsession” with Dredd’s never-seen face and much more.
CBR News: What can you tell us about “Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two?”
Douglas Wolk: It’s what happens when you put Judge Dredd in a context where he’s not at home anymore. He’s very much a fish out of water. It’s not New York, it’s not the East Coast, it’s not the Mega-City One we know. Mega-City Two was established about a year and a half into “Judge Dredd’s” original run. It was out on the West Coast. It’s a chunk of California. It’s basically what happens when the very worst cloverleaf in Los Angeles metastasizes to take over the entire state. Mega-City Two was seen for about a page and a half at the end of the “Cursed Earth Saga,” then it was in a “Chopper” story. Then it never got seen again. Spoilers ahead: In a story called “Judgment Day,” around 1990, it got nuked to a cinder.
We’ve never really gotten to see the city up close, and I thought it would be kind of amazing to see what it’s like. See this place is that’s still America, but not Mega-City One America, not East Coast America.
You said at the “2000 AD” panel at Comic-Con International that Mega-City One was John Wagner’s parody of America, so “Mega-City Two” would be an American’s take on that parody. Can you explain what you meant by that?
Wolk: It’s an outsider’s sort of thing. John Wagner was born in the US, but he’s spent most of his life in the UK. One way of looking at “Judge Dredd” is to say it’s a brutal, brutal satire of American culture, by and for British people. I’ve spent a bunch of time in California, but I’m not a Californian. I live outside California. So this is looking at California and LA and projecting it into the future from an outsider’s perspective.
How were you guys brought on to the project?
Ulises Farinas: I was asked, I guess. [Laughs] Chris Ryall sent me an email about it. I wasn’t super-familiar with “Judge Dredd” beforehand except for watching the movies, although I had read it a little bit. I like the design of Judge Dredd so it sounded like something awesome to do. There was nothing holding us back so I dove in.
Wolk: I had been doing back-page essays over in “Judge Dredd” about the history of the series and however each issue connects to it. I then got asked to do something bigger. I wanted to do something as an American, and a West Coaster in particular, that maybe a British person couldn’t do in the same way and maybe [“Judge Dredd” writer] Duane Swierczynski and the people he’s working with wouldn’t be able to do either. So I came up with “Mega-City Two.”
It developed over a while, we kicked it back and forth. When Chris said Ulises Farinas was going to drive I was very excited. Ulises had done an illustration for a story I wrote for Wired a couple years ago that’s kind of the best thing ever. I believe a mural of it was recreated on the walls of the comiXology office in New York. He’s a genius, it made me really, really happy.
Douglas, you became known as a Judge Dredd historian after running the popular “Dredd Reckoning” blog. Was it always a goal to eventually write the character?
Wolk: You know, I never even thought I wanted to write comics. I’ve been writing about comics for 20 years, and people are always asking if I’d like to write comics myself and I respond, “Oh, no — I’m not one of those people who wants to break into the business or anything.” Of course, the moment I got asked to do this, I said yes!
I’ve written a couple of short comics stories before, but never anything this long. It’s interesting. It’s like a language I’ve been listening to for 25 or 30 years and had never formulated a sentence before, myself. It’s super fun, I’m having a great time doing this and I hope I can make something that’s fun for people to read, too.
Ulises, your work is often described as “hyper-detailed,” a description that even found its way into the solicits for “Mega-City Two.” Do you feel pressured to stay that detail-focused once you’ve been labeled that way?
Farinas: I don’t think of myself as hyper-detailed. A lot of times, my backgrounds are really sparse. When I’m designing a page, I think of a detail as pattern making. Other people will use a lot of hatching, whereas I use a lot of tiny little details. Generally, drawing like that, you just draw what you see. When you go anywhere and look around, the amount of information hitting your eyes is overwhelming. You have to choose what you show and what you don’t show as an artist. Even if you don’t show a lot, you still have to make choices of how the details you have work together and how that composition holds together. It’s kind of just the way I draw now. There’s definitely times where I’ve drawn and made the decision to keep it really graphic, and other times I try to throw as much in there as I can. But it never really feels like a pressure — it’s just the way I draw.
Douglas, how many of those little details do you put in your scripts for Ulises, and how many does Ulises work out for himself? I’m specifically thinking of that breathtaking splash page of Mega-City Two from the first issue.
Wolk: That was all Ulises. I think the description of that scene was four lines long. Ulises and I talked over instant message on some stuff that could go into it, but it’s him.
Farinas: Yeah, a lot of the really deep cityscapes and stuff, me and Douglas worked out a lot of behind the scenes technology that gives the city an ongoing permanence. It’s not just, “Throw some cars here and throw some planes over here.” We want these highways to exist. What creates this infrastructure? How does a Mega-City work? That’s what goes into big drawings of fictional places.
Wolk: Ulises has sent me a ton of material. He’s really, really thought this stuff through. He’ll send me sketches and ideas for how things could work. Pretty much every one of them, I’m like, “Yup that makes things come together.” He sent me a little sketch out of the blue months ago, and then I knew how issue #4 was going to work. There’s been a lot of stuff that’s been built around his ideas.
Ulises, you say have to think how the city would actually work when doing these giant cityscapes. Can you think of any specific examples of that in this “Mega-City Two” splash page?
Farinas: There was this one conversation Douglas and I had. He asked me why there weren’t wheels on any of the cars. There were only wheel’s on Judge Dredd’s old car at the end of the issue. The explanation I gave him was, you have to be imagining there’s millions of cars going over these highways in Mega-City Two. It’s dominated by highways. If there were millions of wheels working on these roads, it would turn them to sand almost instantly. There’s no substance that could withstand that friction. So instead of having cars with wheels, we basically have highways that hold the cars to the surface without having to touch them. It’s almost like hover cars.
When you draw Judge Dredd, who do you model him after?
Farinas: I’m actually obsessed with his face. Ever since we’ve been working on it, I always ask Douglas what he looks like. I know everybody says you can’t see his face, but for me, as an artist, I need to explore that question. When it comes to drawing, I want to draw everything, even the things I can’t see. Like when I draw Mega-City Two, there are things I put in there the readers won’t even be aware of. Douglas and I have emailed each other back and forth clues trying to figure out what Dredd looks like. The second issue of “Mega-City Two” actually has a paper doll cutout with different outfits, and his head itself is just a big question mark.
In the beginning, I had a complete head worked out. I had an indication of the face on the page. But then it became much more difficult to draw it with a head underneath it, instead of just drawing the scowl. I ended up abandoning his face and it became that I was drawing his head and helmet as his entire head. No face. Whereas with other characters who wear helmets, I’ll draw a face and then draw the helmet on top of it. Judge Dredd doesn’t get that.
What are some of your favorite “Judge Dredd” stories?
Farinas: I picked up this “Dredd” compilation called “When Judges Go Bad.” I like the idea of corrupt judges, and a lot of the stories were about corruption. One story stuck out, though, called “Judging Ralphy,” by John Wagner and Dave Taylor. It was just sad to me. Judge Dredd kills Ralphie, this protege student that went off the rails, and it really drove home that “Judge Dredd” is about these two competing ideas. Dredd is technically the hero of the story, but he’s not any kind of hero from what he does in the story. I found that really interesting.
Wolk: For me, “America.” People always name “America” as the best Dredd story, but I really love the whole “America” sequence, which included “America,” “Fading of the Light,” “Cadet” and even this small story called “Judgment Call.” For one thing, there’s a point in the series where you really see Dredd as the monster he is for the first time. He’s this amazing character because he’s unutterably brave, he’s incredibly clever, he has the interest of the people he’s supposed to protect all the time and yet he’s still a monster. He’s a horrible, horrible human being. The “America” sequence is all about that. It’s this nightmarish story that also has this incredible wellspring of hope inside it. And one of the things that I really love about the series is that it’s in real-time. All the characters in “Judge Dredd” are 36 years older than they were when the series started back in 1977. We get to see what happens over the course of decades as the society changes and the characters grow.
I loved “Day of Chaos,” too, which is this epic storyline John Wagner wrote last year. If you haven’t read it, I’m not going to spoil it, but there are a bunch of points in that story where Wagner just yanks the entire floor our from under you. Every way you expect it to go is not the way it goes. I also love “Necropolis,” back around 1990. A giant story that Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra did together. The last thing that completely lit me up like a roman candle was “Trifecta,” the storyline that ran last year in “2000 AD” that also included “Lowlife” and “The Simping Detective.” Again, that’s something I can’t even describe what’s special about it without spoiling it. It was a brilliant way of approaching a serialized comic. I’ll just put it that way.
It’s interesting that a lot of your favorite stories for a character with a 35-year history are within the last year or two. Between that and what IDW is doing with the character, do you think there’s a Judge Dredd golden age going on right now?
Wolk: I always think the golden age of comics is right now. I’m always more interested in what’s happening right now than what came before. But I do really like what’s happening now and one of the keys to that is John Wagner. The guy keeps stepping up his game. Every couple of years, he takes a little while off, then comes back and does something that’s significantly better written than anything he’s done before. I love that. That’s the model for how creativity is supposed to work.
“Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two” is out this January from IDW Publishing.