IN THE LASALLIAN TRADITION 2

“Brother Solomon, however, was a completely different incarnation of evil. He was a person of unmitigated perversion.”

 

I feel it’s time to write a new post, based on a recent comment on my January 2016 post IN THE LASALLIAN TRADITION.

IN THE LASALLIAN TRADITION was created from a comment on my ‘About’ page from Martin Hunt about the institutional violence and sexual abuse that was experienced by many boys at my school, St Joseph’s College in Ipswich, Suffolk.

I was very touched to read this account from my classmate at St. Joseph’s, Damian Moss, sent via his friend Rob Buckley about the abuse by the Christian Brothers. Damian sums it up so well.  My reply to him follows after.

“In the time it took me to read this email and the accompanying links I was immediately transported back to that dark place masquerading as an educational institution.
I have an uncomfortable feeling that I was that thirteen year boy described so graphically by Pat Mills.His description of Brother James was so chillingly accurate that it revived memories long forgotten. He and I fought a running battle over a two year period mostly involving my determination to flout school rules and his equally determined passion to uphold the rule of law. It culminated with the pair of us grappling on the ground for some article of clothing- if my memory serves me correctly, I think it was my beloved beatle boots with the two inch cuban heels! Soon after this incident I was deemed unmanageable and shipped off to Beulah Hill to continue my ordeal at the thankfully metaphorical hands of the De La Salle Order.
Brother James in all honesty was a figure of tragic pity. He was inadequate, unloved, deeply frustrated and a raging sado-masochist. Apart from that, he was you’re standard issue christian brother.

Brother Solomon, however, was a completely different incarnation of evil. He was a person of unmitigated perversion. After arriving at Beulah from De La Salle rehab camp he was appointed Head of Boarders in 1964. He was immediately placed in a position where he could continue his abuse of young, vulnerable, sensitive boys in his care/charge. His profile was that of a classic paedophile. He was able to carefully select his victims and groom them over a period of time to gain their trust and confidence before subjecting them to his unspeakable depravity. He was known among other things as the ‘ bugger meister’. He had a malevolent, brooding presence, and was the essence of pure evil. His track record was littered with scores of damaged individuals who just happened to be young , impressionable, and manipulable at the wrong time in their lives.
Thankfully, by the time I arrived at Beulah Hill I was too old and rebellious to be groomed for anything other than immediate expulsion!! He left a frightening legacy of destroyed youthful minds and bodies. Sometimes we need to remember lest we forget such depravity.”

I was aware of and personally inspired by his rebellious nature. Anyone who wore two inch cuban heels at St. Joseph’s, with its ultra-strict dress code, was definitely a rebel! Most of us were too scared and intimidated by these violent, cruel, black-clad fanatics to stand up to them. This was certainly the case for me – my defiance had already been partly knocked out of me at my Catholic primary school, St. Mary’s. Another old boy from St. Mary’s recently reminded me how I regularly challenged the status quo there. Then the nun headmistress – a Mother Theresa lookalike – got me by the throat and squeezed it as she warned me not to repeat my ‘wicked lies’ about the predatory paedophile priests who were endemic in our Catholic community. I really though she was going to kill me. So I had learnt – like so many other Catholic boys – to be silent about injustice by the time I got to St J’s.
But I recall, as if it were yesterday, Damian’s passive resistance to Brother James (the teacher who was my role model for Judge Dredd). As James entered the classroom, Damian very slowly looked up from rummaging in the depths of his desk and gave James a subtle, but unmistakeable knowing look of disdain. In fact, he may not even have bothered to look up, it could have just been his sullen but eloquent body language that incited James’s subsequent psychotic episode. Even from my desk, some distance away, the message Damian’s back was sending out was clear and James got it. ‘Psychotic episode’ is the only phrase to describe the demented and unwarranted beating that ensued and which still angers and upsets me today, perhaps because I feel we should all of us, as a class, intervened en masse, protected our class mate and stopped that maniac.
I’ve discussed it with another old boy and he’s described James having similar outbursts of uncontrollable rage. The fact that the De La Salle order have not acknowledged and expressed regret for the crimes of James and Solomon is a black mark against them which will not go away until they do. I shall certainly be writing about James and Solomon again and drawing their well-documented crimes to people’s attention. So much for St Joseph’s current regime’s proud claim that they are “in the Lasallian Tradition”. Damian’s courage needs applauding. It’s St. Joseph’s old boys like him we need to remember with pride today – “a rebel who fought Judge Dredd”. He is a fine example to us all.

DREDD: HE IS THE LAW!

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, PART SIX: IN THE SHADOW OF THE JUDGE?,  PART SEVEN: DREDD AND DARKIE’S MOB and PART EIGHT: TORQUEMADA – THE SWINGING MONK.

PART NINE:  HE IS THE LAW!

He was incorruptible, totally dedicated, an excellent and patient teacher, driven by religious zeal, with a fanatical love of the Lord which suggested to me Dredd’s similar love of the Law. Hence an early Dredd episode, where Dredd sits reading a giant volume on the Law in his spare time.

I looked him up online. At first I came across a De La Salle Brother called Brother James Carragher currently banged up for 14 years for past crimes against children, having previously done a 7 year stretch for the same. That took me aback. Abuse was endemic at my school, but surely not that bad? Fortunately, it turned out to be a different Brother James who taught me. There are so many ‘Christian’ Brothers these days whose appalling crimes have finally caught up with them, it can be confusing. But mine died recently and was called Brother James Ryan.

He wore a long black robe, Himmler-style, steel-rimmed spectacles, and had aesthetic, angular features and was as scary as Brother Solomon, from whom he took over as Prefect of Discipline.

One day he entered my classroom to find a thirteen year old boy talking. A great kid with a surly punk attitude to life. Seething with a chilling cold anger (that I would later draw on for the scene in the Cursed Earth when Dredd razes the town of Repentance to the ground), Brother James sent another boy to fetch a size ten plimsoll from the cloak room. Then, in full view of the rest of us, he went to work on his victim who was the younger brother of our English teacher. So no favouritism there. All are equal in the eyes of the Law.  He raised the slipper high above his head and took a spin-bowler’s long run-up towards his bent-over victim whom he had carefully positioned at the far end of the raised wooden dais.  His shoes thundered noisily across the bare floorboards, his black robes flapped wildly around him, before he administered a savage blow to the boy’s posterior, raising a cloud of dust at the point of impact. Returning to his starting point, he took several more high-speed, bowler’s run-ups to his victim, thrashing him without mercy, before the poor  kid collapsed in a heap on the ground, whereupon – as we watched, quaking in fear – he stood over him and rained more ferocious blows down onto his crouched and cringing, sobbing form.

We should have gone to our classmate’s defence, and given this out-of-control bully what he richly deserved, but we were kids: the De La Salle Brothers relied on such terror tactics to subdue us, and how often do the citizens of Mega-City rise up against the Judges? They are the Law!

I have my notes from an earlier verson of the Friends Revisited site (before it was sanitised) which confirm these memories of my school.  One old boy said James was responsible for severe beatings (plural) he would not wish on anyone.  Another described him as “totally detached with a stand-offish manner, never accepting any excuse for anything.” Does that remind you of anyone…? That’s exactly how I saw Dredd.  They also said he liked cricket. Though never leaving an impression on my backside, James undoubtedly left a deep impression on my mind. He was my Judge Dredd, a figure to inspire fear, an exponent of summary “justice”, an administrator of draconian punishment I would never forget.

A De La Salle Brother described him in his obituary in 2011 as “Timid and shy by nature.”

In fiction, we need these figures to inspire fear – Darth Vader, Batman, Judge Dredd, Marshal Law – but that fear has to be real, otherwise it’s off the peg, out of a bottle: fake.  When Dredd enters a room, we want to feel that fear.

But mixed in with that fear, I felt admiration, too. For a great teacher in an otherwise great school with an excellent academic record that counts Brian Eno (in the year above me) and Richard Ayoade amongst its old boys.  And it’s the same for Dredd: we fear and yet admire him. Significantly, it is the powerful but flawed teachers I remember from my youth. The normal teachers I barely remember and I think this tells us something about the charisma of evil and how attractive larger-than-life characters like James and Solomon can be. You have only to look at the newspapers this week to see this.

How far you see Dredd as good or evil depends on your perspective and which interpretation of Dredd – the relatively heroic figure of the Cursed Earth or the Lawman of Mega-City – resonates with you.  There are inherent contradictions in his character and hence why I chose my teacher with his own contradictions as my role model for my Dredd.

Taking a holiday break now but hope to get back shortly to conclude the Dredd chapter soon with my thoughts on the Cursed Earth, the secrets of the unpublished Thargshead Revisited strips, and why Marvel comics editor, Margaret Clark], once presented me with a gold business card holder and cards inscribed, “Pat Mills. Artist Therapy always available.”  See you soon!

END OF PART NINE

DREDD – EXIT WOUNDS

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, and PART FOUR: JUDGEMENT DAY.

PART FIVE: EXIT WOUNDS

John Wagner, seeing his character successfully up and running, thankfully came back to Dredd. It was a huge relief. He wrote a Dredd serial where the robots of Mega-City One rise up in rebellion, which proved his excellence as a writer.  The rebellion was led by robot messiah “Call Me Kenneth” whom John dryly pointed out to me at the time was a carpenter by profession.  Three months after 2000AD had hit the newstands, Dredd finally became its most popular character.

Although, soon after I left, I’ve been told the Judge then began to drop again in the popularity poll.  I think these were the stories shortly after the Robot Rebellion, but before Brian Bolland began drawing the Dredd on the Moon saga. In order to hide this from the powers-that-be, the votes were rigged to make Dredd seem more popular than he actually was, to ensure he stayed in the comic.  Someone in authority thought it would be a good idea to “rest” him for a while, even though I had designed all 2000AD serials to be ongoing.

The voting system must seem rather curious and obsessive today.  Some editors had the most elaborate graph charts, recording the success or failure of individual stories and the episodes where they were especially popular or unpopular were noted and analysed. But it was surprisingly accurate, although biased towards action, which usually meant subtle episodes would not go down so well. The system worked until the split between younger mainstream readers – who still filled in the forms, and fans –who didn’t – made it difficult to interpret them correctly. Today, the forums provide similar feedback, although it’s always down, ultimately, to editorial judgement and preference.

In the weeks up to our launch and after, I co-wrote Dan Dare with Kelvin Gosnell, basing the alien Biogs on some pretty hideous microscopic bugs I’d seen in the National Geographic. I also wrote Flesh and many of the Mach Ones, with further important contributions by Kelvin Gosnell and others, but I couldn’t continue to write or rewrite everything in the entire comic and, anyway, It was time for me to go.  My brief from the publisher was to create a Comic Revolution, never to remain with one particular title.

My plan had been to stay with 2000AD until it was rock solid, so it couldn’t be destroyed the way Action had been destroyed, see it through its first important twelve weeks, plan – and edit wherever possible – the stories for the following three months, and then move on. I’d already discussed my next creation with John Sanders and he was keen for me to start. It was to be called Misty, (I took the title from the film Play Misty For Me), a girls comic version of 2000AD with the emphasis on the supernatural, rather than sf.

But I was still leaving 2000AD and Judge Dredd alone in a toxic and hostile desert and expecting them to thrive. It would not be easy.

Here’s how Dez Skinn, creator of Warrior magazine, describes that desert:

I was around 25 when I was told that no matter whether my ideas were any good, I could not become an editor until I turned 30. The thought of another 5 years as a sub-editor, regurgitating the same tired old 1950s formulae, coupled with my 1975 proposal of a horror weekly named CHILLER being turned into THE BUSTER BOOK OF SPOOKY STORIES was enough! I was out.

When I told the editorial director, John Sanders, that I was resigning, he asked how long I’d been at IPC. “Five years,” I replied.

To which he said, “I’m surprised you didn’t leave years ago”.

Here’s a similar view by Annie Parkhouse.

I started on Lion with Geoff Kemp as editor. Initially he was not happy to have a girl on his staff but I felt we had a great working relationship. Then he was also editor on Jet and Thunder, where I was the only art staff.  

When Jet and Thunder failed, [it was cynically just more of the same], I was sent to Valiant, which I hated. Geoff protested to no avail. It was like being at school. All joy was sucked out of the job.

I was only at IPC for 2 years before going freelance, but because I was young it seemed like ages. The resistance to change was why most of the young creatives left within about 6 months around 1972. I left in the October, Steve (Parkhouse) the following April.  

Like the previous comics in the Comic Revolution, Battle and Action, 2000AD was hated by the old regime. Thus when John Wagner and I created Battle, we were told it had to be top secret so they couldn’t interfere and make trouble with the union.  We worked on it in an office kept locked at all times and when other editors asked what we were doing, we said we were working on a braille comic for the blind.  When the managing editor eventually discovered what we were really up to, he saw it as a huge betrayal and cut me dead in the street.

Now, rather than celebrating 2000AD’s success, which was providing employment for four full-time staff, he called me in and told me – with ill-concealed glee – how sales had dropped about 5,000 copies each issue from a starting high of somewhere around 220, 000. The fact that this drop was peanuts didn’t matter to him. There was the hope the drop would continue and this dangerous rival to the old comics would end up in the bin.

Then there was the tragically “lost” strip by Ken Reid.  Long before Monty Python, there was the brilliant Ken Reid.  His surreal cartoon strips, such as the original Frankie Stein, George’s Germs, The Nervs, Jonah and Face Ache are often Pythonesque, sometimes even more insane, yet equally funny.  A few weeks before 2000AD was due to go to press, I learnt that there was a brilliant Ken Reid cartoon strip he had produced for a dummy that had never been published!!! The same managing editor thought it was disgusting and condemned it to the vaults.  It concerned the hideous mutant survivor of a nuclear war who had a horrible “thing” on his back and every week he would try and kill himself.  But each week the thing on his back would prevent him.  So if he jumped off a cliff, the thing would turn into a propeller and fly him to safety etc.  You can just imagine how Ken would have drawn it!  How deliciously foul and what a wonderful antidote to all those saccharine strips in Whoopee! et al.  Just what I needed for the back cover of 2000AD.  I had 100 per cent power to do what I wanted with 2000AD, so I requisitioned the strip from the vaults. But the old regime told me that it had mysteriously “disappeared” and could not be found. Yeah, right.

Sir Patrick Moore

Later, after I’d left and was safely out of the way, there were also serious plans by the old regime to revamp 2000AD, turning it back into traditional two page stories and having a celebrity column: like Dick Emery who hosted the Airfix page in Valiant.  I know they invited astronomer Patrick Moore, host of The Sky At Night, to write this column in 2000AD because I was shown the postcard he sent them where he agreed to write for “this wretched little comic”. It could have been worse: it could have been Jimmy Saville.

But whatever sabotage the counter-revolutionaries were planning, I knew Judge Dredd, at least, was in safe hands with John.

Dredd’s success was not just due to the stunning look of the hero and the quality of John’s writing, but also because the standard of some of the other stories, which had plenty of merit and uniqueness of their own, and should have also been number one characters, was to slip more than a little.

END OF PART FIVE

DREDD – THE LAWMAN OF THE FUTURE

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 it, here’s PART ONE: THE KILLING MACHINE

PART TWO:  THE LAWMAN OF THE FUTURE

We gave the script to artist Carlos Ezquerra and included a reference of David Carradine in Death Race 2000 as the basis for Dredd.  Carlos, born in Zaragoza, Spain, but living in Britain, had impressed John and I by his work on Battle, co-creating two impressive series, Major Eazy and Rat Pack.  So I knew it was going to be good.  But I was still not prepared for the fantastic images Carlos and his agent later brought into the office.

They were extraordinary!  The lawman of the future I was staring at was unbelievable!  I was blown away by them and so was everyone else – including my middle-aged mother-in-law who said, “That character is going to be famous”. It was obvious we had something really special here and it confirmed Carlos’s status as a world-class comic creator.

This is Carlos’ view of his first visualisation: “Dredd was so successful because he was a little ahead of his time, particularly in the fashion sense.  I drew him before the 1977 punk boom of black leather and chains, and well before the heavy metal movement, which he typified.  I have always believed that successive generations went to the opposite extreme of its predecessor.  In this case I thought the peace-loving, flower-wearing hippies would be superseded by a spiteful, black anarchic generation.  The Dredd generation.”

I agree with this totally. And it’s good to hear Carlos refute the punk connection. I get so tired of writers claiming 2000AD grew out of the punk movement.  Sorry, but that’s wishful retro thinking.  It certainly featured punk artists like Mike McMahon, but it wasn’t punk from the point of view of the primary creators.  Although it’s fair to say we all had very punk attitudes even if we didn’t have spiked hair. And Carlos has also said that the uniform was inspired by growing up in Franco’s Spain.  It quite clearly has a strong fascist/Nazi feeling as well.

This was my reaction as recalled by Doug Church, my art director. “When Pat Mills first saw Ezquerra’s sketches of this surly bloke sitting on a massive motor-cycle – he was orgasmic.”      (The making of Judge Dredd, 1995)

Those first sketches of a tall, elegant, remote, mysterious Judge of the future on a Bike out of Hell have never – in my view – been matched by any of the subsequent Dredd artists Indeed they have rarely been matched by Carlos himself. I think this was because he later felt it necessary to follow the powerful, but more “gritty”, down to earth, street-cop versions of his successors, possibly because this was what John Wagner preferred.

As Carlos recalls, he had combined, “a basic motor-bike helmet with a fifteenth century executioner’s hood… I added elements from an ancient Greek Warrior’s helmet to give Dredd’s helmet that distinctly rounded full-face look.”  (The making of Judge Dredd, 1995.)

It’s worth stressing at this point that there are great creators and great developers, but as the creator comes first, in my opinion, he – or she – is the one that truly matters.  Without them, all you have is a blank piece of paper.  So often in comics, it’s the developer who gets the recognition and the praise and I think this has happened more than a little in Carlos’s case.

I still prefer everything about Carlos’s original: the character, the bike and the city – which I’ll discuss a little later – and in this, I feel I am somewhat in a minority, at least among my peers who rate the versions by Bolland, McMahon or Jock, possibly missing the point that none of these three artists – brilliant as they are – have ever, to my knowledge, designed human heroes with the same iconic status as Dredd.  It’s important to recognise this and thereby reinstate the importance of creators

I showed the designs to John Wagner who, to my dismay and disappointment, tossed them angrily to one side and said in his dour Dredd-like voice, “Fucking hell!  He looks like a fucking Spanish pirate!  I’m not writing him, he looks fucking stupid!”

I can understand why he felt this.  After all, John was visualising a cop of the near future, Carlos’s version was of a very distant science fiction future.

Ironically, Dredd’s flamboyant, heavily padded, “busy” look, which John was referring to, whilst unusual in the 1970’s, is now commonplace amongst riot police the world over.  I recently observed some riot police in Serbia preparing for a football match and their knee pads, shoulder pads and fabulous, futuristic boots were extremely “baroque” – as John would put it – and actually put Dredd in the shade.  So it was prophetic of Carlos to have anticipated all this.

Dredd’s look was something John would take some adjusting to, as is evidenced by the art changes he later required for his stories of the Judges on the moon.  He was clearly still uncomfortable with the futuristic design and was trying to find a way to modify it.  Against art editor Kevin O’Neill’s advice, he insisted on the Judges wearing cloaks and made other uniform changes.  Then when he saw the cloaks, he was unhappy with them, and asked for them to be taken out again which would have been problematic so Kevin refused.  Actually, I quite like the cloaks!  But then I’m a huge Bolland fan, too, and, for me, he can do no wrong.

All this passion and dissent is actually very healthy and is no criticism of any of us, because it shows how much we cared and how we wanted the very best for our comic and our readers. It is very different to sf author Michael Moorcock’s view of 2000AD. Apparently he had worked in comics some years before I arrived on the scene and was therefore consulted by the media for his opinion.  Having initially criticised us in the Guardian when 2000AD first appeared for my story about a Soviet-style invasion of Britain, he then went on to say in the Sun newspaper September 8 1978, nearly two years later, “The men who used to produce comics were very creative and they really cared about what they gave the kids. Now they just do it with a supermarket mentality, like producing tins of beans.” It’s a pity he didn’t actually look carefully at comics at that time before giving his opinion.  Not only we were all passionate about what we were doing, and it showed, but so, too, were the guys on Battle, Tammy, and the brilliant comics coming out of D. C. Thomson’s like Jackie, Bunty and Warlord.

This is John’s generous recollection of his reaction to the designs:  “I was unhappy with them.  I thought they were way over the top. I was looking for somebody with much cleaner lines.  I saw Dredd more like smooth glistening metal rather than Carlos’s baroque Judge.  But he was obviously right – it’s a look that has lasted.  Carlos is a great character creator; he was right and I was wrong.” (The making of Judge Dredd, 1995)

Yet interestingly, in the 2012 movie, the character has actually moved back to the streamlined look John was originally after.  Dredd is now much closer to the Death Race 2000 reference we sent Carlos.  And, arguably, this is better from a movie point of view in that Dredd looks more convincing, more functional.  Robocop also went for that clean, metallic look John describes.

Staying with the art, we now come to the city.  I considered the background of one of Carlos’s illustrations which showed a tiny but curiously curved skyscraper, very different to anything I had seen before in science fiction.  John and I had not paid any attention to the visual look of the city, which we imagined would be similar to today’s architecture. This was not unusual in British and American comics where backgrounds are rarely a priority.  But I was becoming increasingly aware of their impact from studying old science fiction books and European comic art and I saw the potential immediately.  Accordingly, I asked Carlos to draw a full page poster based on this small image.

Carlos recalls: “The first strip was set right in the middle of New York City, some years in the future – so I decided to make the buildings rounded and soar into the air, to house the many millions of people.  This was the shape I drew the city.” (The making of Judge Dredd. 1995)

The result was a city so amazing it could no longer be called New York. Instead, my art director, Doug Church, suggested it stretched down the whole of the Eastern seaboard and be renamed Mega-City One.

Here is Doug’s recollection: “Pat came to me with Ezquerra’s full-page depiction of New York in Dredd’s time.  Pat was in raptures over it – but I thought it was a horrible piece of work, but he wanted to feature it as a full-page colour poster.” (The making of Judge Dredd. 1995)

Doug was to be the basis of my character Smith 70, the fast-talking, crazy machine-gunner, in Charley’s War, with his catchphrase “It’s a funny old business…” and everyone in the office instantly recognised him when they read the serial in Battle.  Charley’s affection for Smith 70 reflects my own affection for Doug.  He chattered faster than Smith 70’s machine gun and drove everyone crazy, which endeared him to me as I talked fast and drove everyone crazy as well.  But here I have to disagree with Doug.  It was not horrible and I am still in raptures over that poster.

With hindsight, I realise Carlos might have been influenced a little by Gaudí, whose architecture is equally wild.  Or perhaps not.  In any event, nothing takes away from the uniqueness of his vision, which is his alone. All I contributed to the city was encouraging Carlos to bring out its potential.  I looked at that city for hours and hours and could still do so today.  I still do not believe any other artist’s subsequent version of Mega-City has matched it.  In fact, they have often detracted from it.  The original city has almost skeletal, insectoid, mile-high buildings, rather than the broader, more plausible, and less interesting blocks of his successors.  (I planned a story where these “starscrapers” were so high, they ran out of air on the top floors.)

There was a remote, sinister, mysterious quality to Carlos’s metropolis.  In my view, it has more originality and magic than even the beautiful cities in Blade Runner and Fifth Element, and perhaps draws on similar European comic influences, which it still surpasses.  I do not recall going into comparable raptures when I saw the Blade Runner and Fifth Element cities on the screen.  His city also included CCTV police cameras at a time in the 1970s when they were unknown.  It was this poster image, with Dredd riding across the future landscape, which inspired me to write his triumphant catchphrase, “I am the Law.”

The city was also important to me for two crucial reasons.  Firstly, along with the other images Carlos had drawn, it suggested 2000AD could eventually break into the European market and/or appeal to fans of Metal Hurlant, Heavy Metal and similar comics.  Secondly, it gave 2000AD a classy, fantasy look which it desperately needed to offset the very crude bog-paper we were printed on.  (The story of my battle for higher quality paper for 2000AD is covered in a different chapter).  So we could legitimately call ourselves a science fiction comic at a time where everyone believed sf comics must have the glossy paper and full colour of Eagle or TV21.  This poster was therefore crucial to my plans.

But, above all, these beautiful, mysterious starscrapers of Mega City One showed a world where kids could dream about the world of tomorrow.  There was an aesthetic quality to them, an optimism about the future that I felt could inspire our readers.

Interestingly, looking at the movie city in 2012, the deliberately drab, functional city block has won out over the starscrapers.  And it works – especially the exciting scene in the film where the block goes into lock-down, which is brilliant.  And if it works, and sells, that’s what ultimately matters.  But I still carry a torch for Carlos’s original city and dream of what might have been.

Certainly we lost our European opportunity with the direction Dredd took and it’s why, at least until recently, Dredd comics have not majored in Europe.  But clearly there is a market and an interest there as is shown by the huge popularity of Slaine and ABC Warriors.  European comics are very inspiring.  I was motivated to write Nemesis after reading Caza and Druillet and Lob’s Lone Sloane Delirious.  I’m sure Kevin’s baroque view of Termight, the underground world in Nemesis, was also partly inspired by the Europeans.  Although – in a typically Brit way – he has gone so much further and darker. And I based my overall vision of 2000AD on European comics. But I feel that Kevin and I – and other artists like Brendan McCarthy – were relatively alone in our love of European artists and our desire to be part of that artistic universe.  For others, the move was always towards American art, but to a more functional and basic imagery than the beautiful art of Mike Kaluta, Bernie Wrightson and Barry Windsor-Smith.

Even though we lost something, perhaps we gained something at the same time: that celebration of the dark. Or maybe we just reinforced our unique, almost isolationist British cultural identity.  A friend of mine, Serbian film director and comics festival organiser Dejan Kraljacic sums this up well.

“Dredd is American.  But in the right way.  A very convincing future in which you can feel the stamp of the author.  By comparison, American superheroes seem compromised.  Dredd is more radical, more punk rock, more on the edge.  But he’s too alternative-tough for America and not artistic enough for Europe. For our taste, the art is too realistic and too simple, compared to European styles, which have more backgrounds, more details, more mystery.  Such as the art of Moebius which is very cool, very seducing.

“I really think Dredd is Great Britain; a reflection of Britain’s unique identity, neither American or European.”

Wise words. So now I had the story, the art, and all should have been well for Dredd. Unfortunately not. In the space of a few short weeks, John, Carlos and myself would all resign for different reasons  and all of us insisted we would never, ever return.  Now that was very British!

END OF PART TWO

DREDD – THE KILLING MACHINE

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  the light of the new film, and present it here as the introductory piece to my new blog. 

THE KILLING MACHINE

In the summer of 1976, the creating of the future cop Judge Dredd began.  It was a complicated and protracted process that is not unusual in comics.  Most great comic book heroes go through endless changes and revisions before the final iconic heroe emerges.  But Dredd was more involved than most because its two creators, writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra, actually walked away from their embryonic creation, leaving me to develop it or face it being stillborn.  John left because a deal we were promised on intellectual property rights didn’t happen; and Carlos left because Dave Hunt on Battle promised him his own strip – El Mestizo – about a bandit in the American Civil War. There were other considerations for both of them, but these were the key reasons why they left.  As a fellow creative, I sympathised with John’s reason for leaving, but as the editor and creator of 2000AD, I could not allow their hero to self-destruct. Dredd had to survive because its potential was so obvious and so enormous.

The story begins when, following the initial success of Action, IPC Magazines publisher John Sanders commissioned me to originate a science fiction comic as part of the comics new wave.  This was part of a long term plan to get rid of the old regime, who were holding comics back, and bring the publications up to date. John Sanders had already succeeded on the girls’ side, where best-selling comics like Tammy had revived the industry. Now he wanted to do the same with boys’ comics. And so, for many long months, I worked entirely on my own, up on the top floor of King’s Reach Tower, isolated from the rest of the juveniles department and therefore away from prying eyes, creating sci-fi characters and worlds and writing the first episodes of serials which would eventually appear in Prog One of 2000AD or in subsequent issues.  I also got John’s okay to bring Dan Dare back and I spent weeks going through the back issues of Eagle and discussing a suitable approach with my proposed writer Ken Armstrong who also designed an excellent NASA style spaceship for Dare.

This led to meetings with Paul de Savary who had the film rights to Dan Dare and was understandably very interested in what I was intending to do with Dare in my comic.  Ken and I  had several meetings with Paul and his designer, who had worked on Space 1999, and who I recall didn’t like Ken’s ship because it had “too many bits sticking out from it” (the solar panels) and thus wouldn’t make a good toy. The de Savary connection resulted in John Sanders approaching me with an interesting business proposition: he suggested that I produce 2000AD as an outside contractor, supplying IPC with the final finished comic product.  In some unspecified way, Paul de Savary would be part of this equation, probably helping to finance it. Paul was primarily interested in Dan Dare and guiding its return to comics, but as time went on, I recall him also enthusing to John and myself about my other stories and seeing their potential.

The outside contractor idea would have neatly bypassed all the problems John Sanders was having with the old regime as they dug their heels in, refused to change, and waited, exuding passive aggression, for their retirement or redundancy as the other Fleetway comics slowly – and sometimes not so slowly – died.  As well as a fixed fee, it would have given me a percentage of the comic’s profits, so naturally I agreed.  But it was too big a task for me to handle alone; it would have involved hiring an office and staff.  Therefore, as a first step, I brought in my former writing partner John Wagner, whom I had known since 1970 when we worked together at publisher D.C. Thomson’s in Dundee. I paid him to review the first drafts of my scripts and he agreed to create a ‘future cop’ story for me as part of the package.

The deal would have given us both some intellectual property rights over our stories, something sadly lacking in British comics then and even to this day.  As comic writers and artists, we did not own our characters: instead we sold all rights to the company.  So any profits from films, reprints or merchandising went to the company and not the creators. At that time, no royalties were ever passed on. They could also employ cheaper replacement writers and artists if we protested or became ‘difficult’, as I was frequently described!  Worse, we had no credits on our work. This was a deliberate policy of the publishers – both IPC comics and D. C. Thomson – to stop individuals building up a fan following, so any artist’s signatures on their work were ruthlessly whitened out and writers names blacked out on the scripts, which meant writers could never communicate with artists direct. This appalling ‘divide and rule’ policy worked for many decades, until Kevin O’Neill heroically sneaked credits onto 2000AD stories and the British comic industry was changed forever.  Publishers’ lack of shame for this restrictive practice is something to be marvelled at.  When I tell my colleagues in France, where creators are held in high regard, they shake their heads in disbelief.  They can’t believe it was actually that bad.

With the prospect of a better and fairer future ahead of us, John and I enthusiastically talked about his idea for a cop of the future.  We were both impressed by a one page American underground strip called Mannix that was reprinted in Comix: A History of Comic Books in America, by Les Daniels.  It featured a ruthless cop who shoots a fleeing criminal in the back and was obviously satirising dirty cops some years before the Clint Eastwood films appeared. We were also impressed by a story in American magazine Weird and Eerie where a science fiction cop pursues a criminal through a futuristic city and executes him.  We then discover the perp’s crime – he was carrying a copy of a sick and seditious magazine, Weird and Eerie!

We also rated science fiction movies like Fahrenheit 451 where cops burn books, Logan’s Run where cops shoot old people, Death Race 2000 where crazy drivers run over pedestrians in legalised death races, and Rollerball where death is turned into a sport.  Against this background, John suggested to me, “What about a future New York cop who executes people for the smallest infraction of the law, such as dropping litter?”

It sounded brilliant. Primarily because I’d seen, time and time again, how readers preferred extreme characters.  To my surprise, and even alarm, a psycho character with no feelings would regularly win out any day over a hero who had some humanity or vulnerability.  From my point of view, it was giving the readers what they wanted, but it also had sufficient satire to make it acceptable to me personally.  I think it’s important to say this because if a story doesn’t interest me, I will not write or edit it, no matter how successful it might be.  Hence why I never joined my peers in the Brits’ enthusiastic invasion of American comicdom, even though I had several opportunities.  Writing mainstream superheroes bores me too much. So much so, I actually fell asleep at a high level Marvel 2099 conference in New York, where my fellow writers excitedly plotted contrived cross-overs between  “Spidey”, X Men, Doctor Doom and my Punisher 2099 in the presence of the great man Stan Lee himself who was writing Ravage 2099.  I just kept thinking “What the f**k am I doing here?”, imagining how Marshal Law could help them all with their problems, and gently drifted off.

Coming back to that death penalty for dropping litter – if the idea seems unconvincing or ridiculous now, then consider the situation in modern Iran.  I spent three months in that country  a few years ago and once watched breakdancing teenagers halfway up a mountain outside Tehran.  They believed they would be safe from the law, but the secret police were also watching, and moved in to arrest them. Dancing is against the law in Iran.

Of course, the tone of John’s zero tolerance cop had to be absolutely right.  So it needed to be closer to the tone of Rollerball, than to Death Race 2000.  The central character had to be deadly serious.  As a Marvel Comics editor said to me once, “Laughing at a comic book hero is like laughing at the reader’s dick.”  But I knew John would be suitably respectful of their genitalia.

Next, John’s idea needed a title and this came from an unusual direction.  I had previously created a black magic serial for 2000AD, entitled “Judge Dread“.  I had taken the name from a popular Jamaican reggae band at the time.  The hero was a kind of occult Doctor Who, with the visual image of Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee.  My Judge Dread, famous for being Britain’s last “Hanging Judge”, had sentenced to death many of Britain’s most notorious and vicious murderers.  I wrote a first episode where the Judge and his companions pursue a group of black magicians who are holding a sabbat at Stonehenge.  It ended with a sensational revelation: Judge Dread discloses he last met the leader of the Satanists when he stood before him in the dock at the Old Bailey; and sentenced him to be hung from the neck until dead!

John, now reviewing this script for me, felt such an occult story did not fit into my comic of science fiction stories and recommended I ditch it.  I agreed and, as the title was going spare, he asked me if he could have it for his cop story, to which I also agreed.  Later,  we changed it  to “Judge Dredd” to avoid complaints from the reggae band.

Interestingly and – perhaps bearing out John’s view – I tried reviving my original Judge Dread for 2000AD in recent years, giving it a new title.  Set in an alternative 1960s Britain, the story I outlined featured all the hung men the Judge had sentenced to death coming back from their graves, intent on vengeance. They were led by a manic and evil mod, straight out of Quadrophenia, who was the last person to be hanged in my alternative UK.  2000AD’s  editor, Matt Smith, rejected it as being too nightmarish, especially the execution scene which had the tone and detail of Pierrepoint – the Last Hangman.  The  mod defiantly sings The Who’s My Generation as he’s dragged to the execution chamber and drops through the hatch.  Matt felt it needed more science fiction/fantasy to remove the story from the horror reality.  Personally, I think it really came down to who would have drawn it.  A John Hicklenton style artist?  Clearly too horrific! (Alas!)  But an artist like Patrick Goddard I believe would have done a wonderful and more restrained job.

I looked forward to John’s first draft. My expectation at that time was that it should have some emotion and humour and it’s worth lingering for a moment on these expectations and whether they were really valid or not.  They would lead me later to introduce Maria, Judge Dredd’s Italian landlady, into the serial.  When the Judge sat there reading his law books at night, she would worry about him being warm enough when he was out on the cold Mega-City streets. Similarly, John himself would later create Dredd’s humorous companion, Walter the lisping wobot, who once bought “Judge Dwedd” a stick to beat Walter with, so that  the Judge would not “hurt his hand on Walter’s wuff metal skin.”

I thought John’s Walter was great – because he was someone for the Judge’s grim character to bounce off – and so did the readers at the time, as was confirmed by their letters and a sudden surge in the popularity of Dredd.  Walter – a vending machine robot – was brilliantly designed  by Kevin O’Neill and was so successful he even had his own one page strip, drawn by Brian Bolland.

But the late John Hicklenton, who drew a recent Judge Dredd serial of mine – The Tenth Circle – told me, “As a thirteen year old I was blown away by Dredd.  I turned to my dad and said, “I’m going to draw that one day.”  But I didn’t like Maria and Walter the wobot. I just wanted Dredd to be a killing machine.  I imagined him sleeping in a cryotube.”

John Hicklenton made a really important point here  that goes right to the heart of the debate over what Judge Dredd should be about and many readers today will wholeheartedly agree with his verdict.  This is the Dredd they prefer and I can understand why.  As a teenager, I remember preferring a secret agent film which was just full-on violence and mayhem, with zero characterisation, in preference to the relative complexities of Bond.  Others may disagree and feel a need for something more from Dredd that Walter, John’s hilarious stories like the Oxygen Board and later my Rico story and the Cursed Earth fulfilled.  That I think was a dilemma for many years in Dredd’s history before Dredd as a killing machine finally won out.  As Dredd is John’s hugely successful and established character, it is his prerogative and it is absolutely right that he should take his story wherever he wants it to go.

But in the late summer of 1976, as editor of the new sf comic, I had a very different perspective. I read John’s first draft and found, surprisingly, it did not have the science-fiction tone or the other elements I was expecting, although he did have a special gun, inspired, I believe, by Dick Tracy’s.  Instead, Dredd was hunting and burning anonymous ‘communist subversives’, there were no surprises and no executions for dropping litter, no satire as in Mannix or the Weird and Eerie future cop.  The tone was dead straight.  Dredd was, literally, a killing machine.  And this is fascinating from a 2012 perspective because this means John’s very first draft – his initial vision of the character- is actually the closest to the current Dredd movie.  It’s far nearer than the drafts that followed or the Dredds that would appear in 2000AD in the first few years.  Watching the film, I was struck by this and how the dialogue felt so like John’s.  The movie – with Karl Urban’s superb rendering of Dredd –  is a vindication of John’s approach and is very much his movie.

Whether a killing machine would have worked in the comic at the time is questionable. Leaving aside 18 certificate issues (which we could have gotten around), I doubt it, because it would have seemed hugely out of place in 2000AD, which had stronger elements of futurism, characterisation, humour and plot development.  So I revised the first draft and introduced an element of satire, although I felt it still did not have enough ‘edge’ for my taste.  In retrospect, I think what I was really looking for was the black comedy that comes through in the first Terminator movie. Arnie is a comparable killing machine to Dredd, but with a  much stronger element of humour.

John and I then wrote a third version together which more closely resembled what he originally described to me. It featured a sequence where Dredd executes bank robbers, then a jaywalker steps off the pavement in his excitement to see ‘justice’ done. So Judge Dredd turns and executes him as well.  That worked for me and for the time being I was satisfied.

The next stage was to find an artist to draw it.

END OF PART ONE