A few years back, a publisher at Random House asked me to write a sample chapter for a proposed book that my agent – a big comic book fan – felt I should write. It was to be called:
THE COMIC REVOLUTION
Judge Dredd, 2000AD, Battle and Action
My book would have covered my personal recollections of how those comics were created and what a bizarre world comic publishing was back then. The sample chapter I wrote was about Judge Dredd, which would have been Chapter 12 in the book. Although editorial liked it and green lit the project, it was turned down by their marketing department, who felt there wasn’t enough interest in comics.
Today, especially with the new Dredd movie just out, all that’s changed. There seems to be more interest in comics and their origins than ever. So I thought it was time to dust the chapter off, update and extend it in light of the new film, and present it here as the introductory piece to my new blog. If you missed them, here are PART ONE: THE KILLING MACHINE, PART TWO: THE LAWMAN OF THE FUTURE, PART THREE: BETTER DREDD THAN DEAD, PART FOUR: JUDGEMENT DAY, PART FIVE: EXIT WOUNDS, and PART SIX: IN THE SHADOW OF THE JUDGE?
PART SEVEN: DREDD AND DARKIE’S MOB
Everyone bases their characters on themselves to some degree. Artists especially. Take Slaine, where Simon Bisley and Clint Langley are easily recognisable as the Celtic hero in their versions of the saga. And this goes for writers, too. I certainly took up sword fighting for a while and had my knitted chain mail gloves, helmet, and two specially made swords and shield. I was taught by a professional instructor and was really getting into it, until I began sword fighting with my writing partner, Tony Skinner, in between our scripting sessions. Built like a berserker, he snapped my sword at the hilt with one effortless blow. I decided it was time to retire! And any readers of Marshal Law will know I identify very closely with Law’s dislike of superheroes.
In John Wagner’s case, Dredd is undoubtedly an alter-ego of himself. His dour, Scottish manner, combined with an early American childhood, admirably qualified him to write the Judge. The tower blocks of Greenock where he grew up I’m sure have more than an echo in the city blocks of Mega City, particularly in the new Dredd movie. His slow, monosyllabic responses are similar to, but less-studied than the late Clement Freud’s. John’s later writing partner on Dredd, Alan Grant, also has a similar dour Scottish character. Together, the two of them made for a lethal team with their optimistic and cheerful outlook on life – not – and were admirably suited to relate the appalling lives of the bizarre citizens of Mega-City. I still laugh out loud when I recall a John ending where a perp explains it was the pressure of life in this terrible city that made him commit his heinous crimes. “I know, citizen. I know,” says Dredd ‘sympathetically’ as he leads him away to the iso-cubes. That is so John!
I think there was a similar identification with the hero in John’s very successful Darkie’s Mob, in Battle, now reprinted as a Titan Book collection – The Secret War of Joe Darkie. A serial about a group of irregular soldiers fighting the Japanese behind enemy lines and led by the mysterious and very bald Joe Darkie, it was a tough story, the toughest story Battle had ever run, and Darkie’s ruthless character has much in common with Dredd. The journal style in the story was inspired by The Private War of Nicola Brown by John Cornforth and Esteban Maroto – a well-written and beautifully drawn anti-war serial about the Crimean War, which John and I worked on when we were editorial staff on Romeo. It would also inspire the letters home I used in Charley’s War.
When Darkie’s Mob came to a powerful and emotional end where Darkie is killed, John shaved his head bald. He told me it was because he wanted to see what the top of his head looked like, but he said to someone else he did it because he’d lost a bet. Everyone on 2000AD, however, was convinced it was because he was in mourning for his alter-ego Darkie.
I didn’t think I can claim Dredd was an alter-ego of me. But I had equally strong role models to draw upon: two of my teachers who inspired my version of Dredd, especially in my Cursed Earth saga. They were also the basis forTorquemada – 2000AD’s most popular and evil villain – in Nemesis. Describing how and why they inspired me is going to lead me into some dark and deep waters which tell us something about the nature of Dredd and the heroes and villains we love to hate.
The teachers were De La Salle brothers at my old school: Brother James and Brother Solomon. They were both “Prefects of Discipline”, responsible for administering corporal punishment, which gives you a clue where this is going. Brother Solomon was to leave the teaching order under a cloud – you can probably guess what kind of cloud – and was later to become famous as the pop star known as “The Swinging Monk”.
END OF PART SEVEN