2000 AD Prog Slog

Friday, December 07, 2007

Sci-Fi Special 1983

Like every sensible Marvelite of the late seventies and early eighties, I thought that John Byrne was the best thing since bare breasts. By 1983, he had finished helping to make The Uncanny X-Men Marvel’s biggest selling book and was now working his magic on the Fantastic Four and other Marvel comics. At the height of his popularity and output, the English speaking superhero comic reader’s favourite artist had agreed to draw an episode of a lesser known strip called Judge Dredd.

Seeing superstar artist Byrne drawing one of our humble British strips for the payment of a pint of milk and a packet of crisps seemed as likely as 2000 AD’s Alan Grant writing the lead Bat Man comic for DC even though, the year before, we had seen Joe Staton on Blackhawk. However, by the time both Byrne and Tharg could schedule each other in, his artwork, on his American books at least, was going through a ropey period. The Fantastic Four started to look like it was being drawn to actual size rather than for reduction while who can forget the notorious snow storm issue of Alpha Flight where the panels were left blank except for captions, speech balloons and sound effects. I put this quality dip down to the quantity of his work, which, in relation to most other professionals was vast.

In Block Out at the Crater Bowl, Dredd leads a group of Judges in policing a Block-Out match. The fans of the three sides are passionate about the blocks that they support to the point of irrationality and when the skirmishes between them turn into a full scale mass brawl Dredd has no choice but to spray the crowd in riot foam. I love the thought that Wagner and Grant might have written this satire of football hooliganism, a very British issue at the time, with Byrne in mind. He might have lived in the UK until he was eight years old but contemporary social issues specific to Britain must have been baffling to him.

Art Robot Byrne’s version of Dredd seems to be more in line with the earlier definition of the character instead of the scowling, post Bolland interpretation that was now popular. His style is loose and quick making his work seem confident and natural. Had he drawn this strip a couple of years before, his crowds would have been made up of generic faces but here they all look individualistic, the sign of a cartoonist at the top of his game as far as I’m concerned. There are some flaws; for example, it looks obvious from this black and white strip that he’s drawn it for colour reproduction and most of the scenes lack background detail but, on the whole, I would say this is an effort that compares favourably with many of the regular artists on the weekly at the time. With Byrne having burned his bridges with all of the mainstream publishers in 2007, perhaps Tharg should consider giving him a call and offering him the chance to draw Judge Dredd again. It’s just a thought.

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  • Wasn't that issue of Alpha Flight part of the notorious Assistant Editor's Month?

    Byrne's work was particularly strong in the early 80s; it was a shame to see it drop off so much over the following ten years. I'll still take a look at his stuff when he's on a new book, but I rarely take more than glance these days. A good call on getting him some work on 2000ad though.

    By Blogger George, at 10:12 am  

  • Not something I'd be keen to see and I suppose money would be the biggest issue. Given how much he charges for a tracing of one of his old covers, I imagine you could get three or four strips from a great, interesting artist like D'Israeli or Frazer Irving for the price of one from him.

    What's interesting about this whole thing is seeing this from the perspective of a big fan of American comics, which I've never really been into.

    By Blogger Peter, at 3:20 pm  

  • any chance of scanning a few Byrne Dredd panels in? I don't remember them and would be interested to see them.

    By Blogger Dom Sutton, at 8:57 pm  

  • I think Byrne's Dredd effort is awful, on a par with Kim Raymond and totally not getting it. He draws him like a plastic superhero and his proportion, even for a cartoony style, is less than great.

    By Blogger garageman, at 11:26 pm  

  • George, I checked out anything new from Byrne for longer than I should have. The last time was that DC book, Generations.

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 10:30 am  

  • Peter, I don't imagine it would or should, necessarily, happen. I was merely pondering.

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 10:31 am  

  • Dom, I've done the scanning. Check out later today for them.

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 10:32 am  

  • Garageman, Byrne must have understood Dredd enough to have been a fan of the strip which is how he ended up drawing this one-off. I still stand by my theory that he was trying to recreate the early way of drawing the character; using the same method that made his Fantastic Four comics so sucessful

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 10:35 am  

  • so why should he draw Dredd the same way as the Fantastic 4? I don't see the correlation. Did he actually see what was then current, and successful, in Dredd?

    Byrne has a typical US comic style which never fit in Twoth. Even John Cooper is better at "old" style Dredd.

    By Blogger garageman, at 12:59 am  

  • Garagemen, I never said that he should draw Dredd the same way as he drew the F4. To clarify, I was trying to say, I am not surprised if he used a similar approach.

    2000 AD has a diverse range of art styles for which there is space for someone like Byrne. Again, to clarify, I don't believe that he went for an old fashioned style, I was trying to say that he seemed to reference the pre-Bolland way of drawing Dredd for example, with less emphasis on the scowl and differently shaped jaw line.

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 9:24 pm  

  • Heh. Loved the comment comparing Byrne to bare breasts, considering the work he was doing on Storm, Aurora and Sue Richards (as Malice) at the time. Byrne once sneaked a nipple past the Marvel censors when he drew Ororo towelling herself after having a shower (in Uncanny X-Men 120 or so, when she is attacked by Arcade). Believe me, as a geeky teenager, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

    By Blogger dmstarz, at 5:44 pm  

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