Thursday, November 10, 2011

151. Artists Old and New

Welcome back to Thrillpowered Thursday, a blog where I'm charting the history of 2000 AD, which, for thirty-four years, has been the Galaxy's Greatest Comic. In each installment, I look at some of the important events going on in the weekly comic's fun history, moving forward four or five issues at a time. However, since the last time that I wrote, there have been some quite remarkably important events in the present day. 2000 AD's publisher, Rebellion, has worked out two awesome deals with the big Barnes & Noble chain. If you are an American still a little lost and confused where to actually find these comics, you are totally in luck. Not only is B&N now stocking Judge Dredd Megazine - issue 315 is on shelves now, and priced 20% less than it sells for in comic shops - but, at the end of October, it was announced that B&N has placed a mammoth order for the Rebellion/Simon & Schuster American line of graphic novels. This is in the wake of B&N pulling a huge list of DC graphic novels from their shelves; DC had made several titles digitally-exclusive to Amazon's Kindle, leaving B&N's Nook users in the cold. B&N's quite sensible retaliation has left space on their shelves, and now all their stores should be stocking far more 2000 AD collected editions than ever before. Everybody wins, I think.

The next installment will talk about collected editions in more detail, because there was a big development in April 2005 that helped lead us to this point. But I had already started writing the first draft of this entry before the news broke, and didn't feel like shuffling things around too much yet. I was planning to talk about the trades in chapter 152, and that's what I'll do. This time out, a look at prog 1437. There's a solid lineup inside, with The V.C.s by Dan Abnett and Anthony Williams, Bec & Kawl by Si Spurrier and Steve Roberts, and Slaine by Pat Mills and Clint Langley, about which, more in two weeks. These strips are bookended by two stories that I think are really interesting from an art perspective. These are Judge Dredd, starting a three-part story by Gordon Rennie and Karl Richardson, and American Gothic, a nine-part serial by Ian Edginton and Mike Collins.

Richardson does not seem to get enough work from Tharg. The impression that I get is that he's a very meticulous craftsman, and weekly deadlines might be a bit tough for him. He would soon be assigned The 86ers but will drop out very early on, leaving PJ Holden to draw the bulk of that strip.

I'm not entirely taken with his depiction of Dredd himself - he seems disagreeably like the huge, bodybuilding version designed by Inaki Miranda and Eva de la Cruz that was popularized in the daily strip in London's Metro newspaper - but aside from that, this is really interesting artwork.

The coloring is especially impressive, using garish solid colors bleeding over the figures to indicate the harsh stage lighting behind the band, Death Rattle. Unable to get a visa to enter Mega-City One, they're playing a show in the Cursed Earth, and Richardson puts a spray of brown and tan dust over everybody and everything. He even gives the security guards on the West Wall a distinctive gray uniform. The mutants, Father Sin and his gang, look like they stepped out from the background of one of the covers that Brian Bolland contributed to the 1980s reprint series from Eagle Comics. This is a classy, classy art job.

American Gothic, sadly, features artwork on the other end of my personal "like it!" scale, and that's just baffling, as Mike Collins is a really terrific comic artist. I mean that; his work on Panini's Doctor Who strip is consistently first-rate, and his version of David Tennant's Doctor is the definitive one, in my book. But American Gothic seems crude and unfinished when compared to Doctor Who, perhaps in part because Collins' work is so well balanced for color that it seems like Gothic's pages are really hurting for the lack of it.

The strip itself is one where the creators' initial enthusiasm seems to die outright early on; after a deliberately-paced opening episode set in a frontier town, and a second episode that introduces readers to the large cast of European refugees working their way across the American west - the twist being that these are vampires, trolls, werewolves, and, for lack of a better word, monsters looking for a life away from hateful humans - the pace picks up too quickly for either Collins or any reader to get a grip and ride along. As the sad body count rises, Collins' art becomes scratchy and rushed, and the already imbalanced linework becomes a blur of hatchy inking with an unflattering grayscale wash. Both creators are hugely talented, but this is just a huge misfire, and one best forgotten.

Stories from this issue are available for purchase in the following collected editions:

Bec & Kawl: Bloody Students (2000 AD's Online Shop)
Slaine: Books of Invasions Volume Three (out of print, Amazon UK suggests sellers)

Next time, speaking of collected editions, it was during this period that Rebellion's deal with DC to create and distribute some definitive books came to an untimely close. More about that in seven days!

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