The timing really couldn't be better: 2000AD reaches its 1,800th issue the week after the U.K. release of the latest movie adaptation of its lynchpin, Judge Dredd. Even the most die-hard 2000AD fan would have found it hard to summon the bravado to predict just how successful the film would prove in its first weekend. A great time, then, for a relaunch issue of the revered anthology comic, with a headline-grabbing Simon Bisley cover, and a standalone Dredd story both written and drawn by the great Chris Weston.
With the first Dredd movie adaptation, 1995's Sylvester Stallone star vehicle, previously very much a sore subject for fans of the character, maybe now is a time to put lay old ghosts to rest. To forgive and forget. To put old grudges behind. Or maybe sod that -- now is the time for some arch-triumphalism at the expense of that terrible old flick, and run a strip called "The Death of Dan-E Cannon," a title seemingly designed to troll the director of the box-office flop that nearly brought the comic to its knees in the mid-'90s?
We spoke to Chris Weston about his abiding love for 2000AD, his feelings about comic-to-film adaptations in general, and whether dissing one of the U.S.'s top TV producers so publicly could prove to be a bad career move. You'll never work in this town again!
Robot 6: Writing and drawing the first Dredd strip in 2000AD after the launch of the new movie must feel like a privilege, right?
Chris Weston: It's very flattering that Tharg would pick my one out of the pile. I actually wrote it and drew it about nine months ago, so I had no idea it would be used in this way.
It's funny, the inception of this story came when I realized we hadn't had a decent "Disaster in Mega-City One" story in the Weekly Prog for ages. I always loved them (especially "The Great Plasteen Disaster" from Prog 139). I also wanted to do an homage to Frank Bellamy's Thunderbirds strip, and tried to ape his layout style with all the jagged frame shapes and angles. Once I'd come up with the idea for the Rogue Space Cannon, I took it to Al Ewing to see if he'd write it for me. He was interested and asked me to put my ideas in writing. However, once I started writing, I couldn't stop and a couple of hours later I had a finished script in my hand. Sorry, Al!
The embarrassing part is, since I turned in my script we've seen the epic "Judge Dredd: Day of Chaos" storyline, this was the "Disaster in Mega-City One" tale to end them all! It makes the events in "The Death of Dan-E Cannon" look rather parochial in comparison.
You were working at 2000AD around the time of the first movie. What was the mood of the staff around then, before and after it was released?
Nothing out of the ordinary. All the staff seemed excited about the film and hopeful it would boost the readership. I don't remember any complaints about the quality of film. All the 2000AD creators were invited to a special preview at the Empire in Leicester Square and the film was well-received if I remember correctly. Sure, it wasn't a proper "Dredd" film, but I enjoyed it nonetheless as a cheesy Stallone action flick in its own right. It's very easy to make fun of it, and I have at various times in the past.
A massively self-destructive act as a massive laser gun in space called Dan-E Cannon turns on its owner, Mega City One. Nothing personal, Danny? Do you watch CSI at all?
Never watched a whole episode. Obviously, I've stumbled across it while I'm channel-hopping but it doesn't really look my sort of thing. Naming it the Dan-E Cannon was just one more cheap in-joke that I chucked into the pot at the last minute ... I fully expected Tharg to take the reference out. Instead, it's become the strips main selling point!
Have you seen the new movie then?
No, haven't had a chance yet. I'll probably take my dad along to see it with me. He used to buy 2000AD for me every week when I was a nipper, and he was an avid reader, too. He's about as right-wing as Judge Dredd so I'm sure he'll love watching low-life scum getting shot in the head for a couple of hours.
We've had a few yarns before, at our respective blogs and on Twitter, about what makes a good comics-to-movie adaptation. What do you reckon is the secret to success in that market?
Hire Joss Whedon. Aside from that, who knows? Sigh. Everyone has these grand theories about "respecting the source material" and being "too faithful to the source material" or not enough. It's all bollocks. No-one really knows or agrees. In my opinion, all they need to do is make a GOOD film. That's the most important part. Just make it GOOD. The quality has to trump the faithfulness. Green Lantern was packed full of references to the source material, but the lead character was a dick and his CGI costume looked shit, so instant fail. The Avengers, however, was just a bloody good action-romp with great dialogue and good performances.
A massive laser firing on Earth turns out to be writing a message to its inhabitants. When you put it like that, it sounds a little bit like your old mucker Grant Morrison's Marvel Boy. Is Grant a conscious influence upon your writing?
Oh, no. I've never read Marvel Boy ... does that have a rogue space-cannon in it too? Bugger. Just a coincidence, I'm afraid. I suspect every writer I've worked with or read has influenced me somehow.
You've personally had a lot of experience working within the Hollywood system. You're one of the Hughes Bros. go-to guys for conceptual and pre-viz art. No one's going to perceive this strip as you biting the hand that feeds at all?
Hah! You used to read my blog ... you're fully aware that I'd rather put my own foot in my mouth than anyone else's digits! I like to be a bit cheeky sometimes and have a bit of fun ... but I can take it as well as dish it. Am I worried it will cost me work? Sometimes, yeah ... but what the heck; publish and be damned!
You regularly align yourself online with the 2000AD staff, enthuse about the comic, and have provided a few covers recently, including a couple of instant classics.
Thanks, Mark. I am an Art Droid, I've got the T-shirt to prove it. I went through that whole "Careerist Bollocks Phase" when I thought 2000AD would be a launching pad for fame and fortune in the U.S. market. I drew a couple of things that got attention at Vertigo and Marvel, worked with some big-name writers ... but all the time I was still reading 2000AD every week and thinking "Bugger. I'd like to have drawn that." Eventually, I just worked out I should be doing doing this for love and not for imagined acclaim and fortune sometime in the distant future. Hence my returns to 2000AD.
Any intentions to do more work there in the future?
Yeah, of course, if Tharg'll have me! I'd like to encourage him to allow a few more creator-owned stories in the book. But I'm happy to draw the company characters in the meantime.
Ever think of writing at 2000AD for artists other than yourself, like when Dave Gibbons' launched his writing career there with the Rogue Trooper relaunch in 1989?
Yeah. I really want to write something for Laurence Campbell who has a great noir-ish style. I'd love to see him do something pulpy and retro like "Night Raven" or "The Shadow," and if no one else writes that for him I'll have to bloody well do it. That's what motivates me: to produce the books that I'd like to see.
Without wanting to spoil anything, this strip's denouement has something of the Monty Python about it.
What, the dead parrot sketch, perhaps?! Heh. Again, not intentional ... and I was a real latecomer to Python, so I can't say they are an influence.
While I've got your attention, an entirely selfish question: Is there going to be an omnibus edition of The Twelve?
I'd be the last to know about that, Mark. Let me know when you find out. I sincerely hope it will be collected. It probably reads better as a single graphic novel. Unfortunately, it's become a book that is more known for the backroom problems that dogged its publication ... and I accepted my part of the blame for that. But I also think it's a good book. And I'm not blowing my own trumpet there; I'm talking about the script: JMS did a bloody good job on it. Good enough to have a chunk of it turn up in the Captain America movie anyway ...! I'm sure that was just a coincidence, ahem.