2000 AD Prog Slog

Monday, January 14, 2008

Prog 358

One of the motivators for blogging The Slog was a belief that the first ten years or so of 2000 AD is comparable to the creative flourish that Marvel went through during the Silver Age of comics. The number of iconic characters and timeless stories that Tharg’s art and script robots came up with between them matches or even surpasses that of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko during the early sixties. However, whereas even the most cynical and arty of comic journalists seem willing to acknowledge the importance of early Marvel comics, they appear indifferent to the age of Tharg which took place in the UK between 1977 and the late eighties.

If you are able to accept this premise, then, to me, the 2000 AD equivalent of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko is Mike McMahon. Even during my wilderness years, where I bought 2000 AD occasionally but was unable to commit to it, I never had any doubt about McMahon’s artwork. It has always been stunning to me, working on the same parts of my brain that a Jack Kirby fight and a Steve Ditko nervous breakdown did. I don’t need copies of the comic to remember with absolute clarity the image of Judge Dredd tearing out into The Cursed Earth for the first time or the planet from the Hayden Systems being smashed open like a rotten orange during The Judge Child Quest.

In the current Slaine story, Sky Chariots, we are seeing the best McMahon artwork ever. Each page, each panel is perfectly designed, where the gaps are as important as the casually applied, beautifully detailed images. It makes Frank Miller’s 300 look like the pale imitation that it is. Last prog, we saw two flying boats spill their crew into each other in one of the most stunning comic images I’ve ever seen. Hundreds of smelly men wave their stone axes and swords at each other as they try to maintain their balance at the same time. In this prog, a volcano erupts showering the crew in molten lava and blowing another of the boats out of the sky. McMahon draws pinched noses, squinting eyes and toothless mouths with a confidant flick of the wrist. His artwork on Slaine looks as if he’s cut out the middle process; dispensed with the paper altogether and scratched the artwork directly into the printing plates. Wow.

Although he returns to 2000 AD very occasionally after Slaine, it’s so infrequent that it doesn’t seem wrong to think of Sky Chariots as being the end of the McMahon era. And what a way to go. McMahon shouldn’t just be an international superstar like his peers Brain Bolland and Dave Gibbons as, to my mind, he is much bigger than that.

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  • Heh. I never gave much of a toss for American comics when I was a lad. As a result, I hadn't seen anything by the likes of Kirby and Ditko until fairly recently, so I'll only ever see them as dwarves beside the giants of 2000AD.

    However, I hated the art on Sky Chariots when I first saw it. Where was Belardinelli? I wanted to know. It has grown on me since.

    By Blogger Peter, at 10:00 pm  

  • This post is a great tribute to McMahon, and I for one am glad he's plotting a good, long-form, return to comics with the work he's doing on TANK GIRL for Titan.

    But I'm also curious: why wasn't he more prolific for long stretches of time these last twenty years, especially between Slaine and THE LAST AMERICAN? What was he doing for money? Did he have a series of cushy staff jobs that kept him away from the freelance life?

    Can anyone enlighten me?

    By Blogger Mark, at 10:59 pm  

  • Peter, I loved the art from the off. I'm amazed that someone couldn't like it :-)

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 6:06 pm  

  • Cheers Mark. The serialised four part Last American took years to come out. My undertsnading is that he was ill for a long time which slowed his work rate down dramatically.

    By Blogger Paul Rainey, at 6:08 pm  

  • The Last American was meant to be 12 issues long but Mick became sick -some illness that hasn't been disclosed- and Last American was shortened to 4 issues.

    Mick's Sláine work may just be the greatest comic art in history and still almost totally obscure.

    Gibson's Halo Jones book 3 comes close along with the best of Dredd.

    Beats the shit out of Kirby, Ditko, Miller and the rest.

    By Blogger garageman, at 8:37 pm  

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