Davis & Williams on "Judge Dredd"

"2000AD," the weekly British comic anthology, has a reputation for cultivating some of the UK's hottest writers and artists, including Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Brian Talbot, Andy Diggle (who was an editor) and Jock, amongst others. Scripting a Judge Dredd story or drawing his adventures for "2000AD," or the mature audiences-oriented "Judge Dredd Megazine," also proves a lure for many established British creators who may have grown up reading the character's brutal approach to law enforcement. It is more unusual, however, for an American creator to delve into Dredd's world, but "B.P.R.D." artist Guy Davis is braving that territory in March. Joined by "Cla$$war" scribe and "2000AD" mainstay Rob Williams, Davis will be illustrating the 10-page story "Out Law" in "Megazine" #296, with coloring by Dave Stewart. CBR News spoke with Davis and Williams about the story and transcontinental collaboration.

"Dredd's currently on a long-running stint in the Cursed Earth thanks to John Wagner's excellent 'Tour Of Duty' storyline. Having stood up for mutie rights in Mega City 1, Dredd's effectively been banished from the city he loves in order to set up some mutie townships in the Cursed Earth. An effective demotion," Williams said of Judge Dredd's current situation. "So he's dealing with certain emotional issues over this - in his low-burn, stoic way. It's a testament to Wagner's writing that the granite, seemingly unmoving figure of Dredd can suffer resentment and disillusionment while, on the surface, still absolutely playing by the law book.

"In 'Out Law,' with all this as a backdrop, Dredd comes across a small backlands town that's suffering a monster problem - it's a Guy Davis strip, there has to be a monster - and the locals have hired an itinerant and aged 'sheriff' to protect them. This guy is roughly Dredd's age, and he practices his own brand of law. That inspires Dredd, leaving him wondering if maybe that's what he wants to do: leave the politics of Mega City 1 behind and just wander through the chaos of the Cursed Earth, delivering a pure brand of justice. But there's more to this 'sheriff' than meets the eye."

Williams told CBR that he contacted Davis to illustrate the strip, and, once Davis was had agreed, even amended his original script to ensure it took advantage of the artist's talents. "I'm a huge fan of his work on 'B.P.R.D.' and 'The Marquis.' I think he's one of the finest comic artists out there, and his monster designs are just wonderfully unnerving," Williams said of Davis. "I was working on 'Star Wars Tales' for Dark Horse a few years back and contacted Guy, asking if he'd maybe be keen to do a short story together. It never came off, but I remembered at the time that Guy had mentioned what a fan he was of the classic Dredd Cursed Earth story in '2000AD' and how he'd love to do a Dredd. When Matt Smith, '2000AD's' editor, asked if I'd like to pitch a one-off Dredd set in the Cursed Earth, I thought of Guy and asked if he'd be interested. I was pretty amazed that he agreed, and completely thrilled. I had the story already in mind, but then, with Guy on board, I thought, there has to be a monster in here somewhere, so I rewrote it. Also, with the rough edges and mutations of the Cursed Earth, I thought Guy's style would be perfect for that, in much the same way that Mick McMahon's work suited Dredd in the Cursed Earth all those years ago. This is, basically, a sand-swept western tale, out in the frontiers. And Dave Stewart's joined Guy for colours. It's a treat for me, having one of my favourite art teams working on one of my scripts."

Davis, for his part, was pleased not only to have his chance at Dredd but also to inject a new creature into the story. "I think that was the first question I asked Rob when he told me it was a Cursed Earth story: 'Do I get to draw Muties!?' And I did try to fit the monster to the Dredd world and aesthetic but still give it a feel to the creatures I draw. I think when I read the script, the first image that came into my mind was a sort of centipede mixed with a mantis shrimp - something that would survive and thrive in the Cursed Earth - and played it up from there."

Between his regular work with Mike Mignola and John Arcudi's "B.P.R.D." and getting back to his own book "The Marquis," Davis's schedule is quite packed, but the artist said this was an opportunity he couldn't ignore, especially given the fortunate timing. "I think all artists always have a list in their mind of characters they'd like to draw at some point in their career - Judge Dredd was one of mine, so when they asked if I was interested, that was an easy choice to make," Davis said. "And also, the offer came when I was finishing up the final issue of 'B.P.R.D.: King of Fear,' so I had a small window in deadlines to fit the 10 pager in."

It may be surprising to American readers that an artist from Michigan would feel so strongly about the character, given that Judge Dredd, while ubiquitous in Britain, is much less known in the States. For Davis, though, a quick exposure to "2000AD" back issues was enough to hook him on the character. "In the '80s, when I was just starting out, I found a bunch of the old newsprint '2000ADs' at the local comic store and bought them up. It was my introduction to Judge Dredd, Nemesis, Rogue Trooper and Halo Jones - along with a lot of amazing artists," Davis told CBR. "Later on, I collected those great 'Chronicles of Judge Dredd' reprints from Titan (that I still regret selling years ago), but lost track of the character until recently."

The larger magazine format of the "Megazine" compared to the American comic page did give Davis a few unexpected challenges. "It threw me a bit at first; I was looking forward to working in the different format, but it's not just scaled up. It prints bigger, but the actual image size of the board I draw on was smaller than what I usually work on. It has the American width, but you lose some height on it," Davis explained. "So trying to fit everything in the same as I was used to doing took a little rethinking. I don't like bleeding images off the page, but went that route with some panels just to fit more in. In fact, I actually repencilled the creature page after Rob asked for a bigger reveal, and I'm glad I redid it."

Despite the new venue, Davis enjoyed the familiarity of his "B.P.R.D." colorist Dave Stewart, who joined him for the strip. "Dave is simply the best. If I have project that needs to be colored, I always hope that he has the time to do it. Before working with Dave on 'B.P.R.D.,' I really wasn't happy with a lot of my work in color - but when I saw what Dave wanted to do with the art, I was sold!" Davis said. "And that's one of the things that makes Dave so unique and the best: he tailors his coloring to each artists style and doesn't just color everything the same. He plays up the artists' strengths and makes the weaknesses not look so bad."

While Davis returns to the monster-infested worlds of "B.P.R.D." and "Marquis" following his foray into the sci-fi world of Judge Dredd, Williams' other ongoing projects include the recently-launched "Robocop" series from Dynamite, starring a hero not entirely unlike Dredd. "They're similar in terms of being lawmen in over-the-top crime-ridden cities, and the fact that Robocop's design was pretty heavily influenced by Dredd, and the satire that's inherent in both worlds - when writing the new 'Robocop' series, I remarked to a friend that it was probably the most overtly '2000AD' strip I've ever written, despite the fact that I've been writing for '2000AD' for almost ten years now," Williams said. "The men inside the uniforms are very different, though. Officer Murphy is hugely traumatised by his 'murder' and is constantly faced with a battle for his own humanity. There's a huge sense of sadness about him. Dredd's a zealot - a total belief in the law driving him. He is the law. You'd think that this would make him a pretty dull character, but the way John Wagner writes him, you can see the subtle shifts of the man underneath that helmet, which is fascinating. And the dangers of Mega City One and Old Detroit? Dredd has aliens, muties, fatties, war robots and all sorts of craziness to deal with, Robocop's got it fairly easy by comparison, although the ED-209's not to be sniffed at."

Williams also told CBR that the film version of his acclaimed Com.x series "Cla$$war" is still progressing apace, though he could not yet make any new announcements about the project. "Mandeville Films are still working on it, putting the package together," Williams said. "A writer for the screenplay is on board, we're told, but I can't say who he is yet. He's got some big name Hollywood credits behind him though, which is encouraging. We're hoping there'll be more concrete information we can share in the next few months."

"Judge Dredd Megazine" #296 is on sale March 31 in the UK; US stores may receive it later. The issue will be available for digital download on Clickwheel.net approximately one month after print publication.

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