In case you missed part 1: http://comicbuzz.com/2000-ad-35th-anniversary-interview-with-michael-carroll-part-1
Q. There has been a number of Dredd Clones – The Judda, Kraken, Rico – who is your favourite, and have there been any Dredd characters that you especially liked and why?
A. I’ve always liked Judge Rico (the second one, not the evil one!), and I was very taken with Dolman too, but we’ve barely seen him since he quit the academy (now, there’s a character I’d like to have a stab at! Tharg? Pretty please?). Rico works well as a sort of Dredd-lite, but I don’t think he’s been given enough chances to shine. Not yet, anyway….
Q. It was very interesting how in “Tour of Duty” Colin MacNeil ably portrayed the changes in the uniform over the years. What changes in Dredd in the last decade have you liked?
A. At the end of “Origins”, Dredd’s realisation that the Justice System had deviated from Fargo’s vision… that was masterful. “It was never meant to be forever,” Fargo says. A simple thing, but it completely turned Dredd’s universe upside-down. But that’s John Wagner all over, that is. Tiny lines here and there that add huge layers of depth to a tale.
There’s been other changes, too, that have worked well. Repealing Mega-City One’s no-mutant policy opened a lot of doors, story-wise, as did Hershey being ousted from office.
As for the uniform… Well, sometimes I wish that some of the artists would rein it in a bit when it comes to the shoulder-pads. There’s an almost-great cover from a couple of years back which, for me, is completely spoiled by Dredd wearing a shoulder-pad as big as a sofa cushion. Presumably the judges wear them to protect them from falling safes or meteorite strikes.
It’ll be interesting to see if the coming movie has any impact on the comic’s uniform design. And the design should change, in my opinion. After all, even most modern-day police officers no longer have the same style of uniform they had thirty-five years ago. It doesn’t have to change much, but I’d be in favour of a more practical uniform that scales down the eagle and shoulder pad, and maybe ditches the badge chain too (I’ve often wondered how Dredd manages to run down a corridor without the badge chain going “clinky-clinky-clinky” and giving away his position). They can keep the kneepads, though. Kneepads are cool!
Q. I feel there is more of a political message to Dredd, and felt your story “Caterpillars” in many ways reflected the way some real people feel ground down by the system. Why is such a political message, even buried within a good story, still a powerful attractor?
A. After twenty-something novels and lots of short stories and comics, I’ve come to the conclusion that depth is not something that a writer puts into a story: depth is something that the reader takes out of it.
A story that means something to one person might well mean something completely different to someone else. Example: in another of my Dredd tales (“Creatures of Habit”, 2000AD prog 1716) there’s a guy with an obsessive compulsion to shoot at yellow cars. One reviewer of the strip saw this as a reference to the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, in which the protagonist hates the colour yellow, especially yellow cars. Well, I’ve never read that book, so that interpretation has nothing to do with what I wrote! (If you really want to know: I chose yellow cars as a very oblique reference to a Mr. Logic strip from an old issue of Viz: Mr. Logic is driving along when he’s spotted by two policemen: “Yes! Yellow car! I need it for me 147-break!”)
As for “Caterpillars”… All I’m doing with the story is saying “this is how it is in Mega-City One for some of the citizens.” It’s up to the readers to interpret the story however they wish. The reader’s conclusions are more important than any message I might be trying to impart.
This is one area where science fiction has a leg-up on mainstream fiction: you can get away with a lot in SF that often wouldn’t be tolerated by the mundanes. Star Trek, rather famously, featured the first inter-racial kiss on television in 1968. At that time there was still segregation in some American schools (it’s hard to even imagine that now, but that was in my own lifetime: some people were not allowed to be educated alongside others because their skin was a different colour).
Q. The Matt Smith era seems to be one of success: he has somehow managed to keep 2000AD going strong. What’s it like to work with Tharg?
A. It seems to me that it’s a success primarily because Matt really understands the comic. Not that his predecessors didn’t, but Matt really gets it. He knows what the readers want, and he delivers that.
When you think about it, it’s kind of mind-boggling: Matt’s been the editor of the weekly since prog 1274 in January 2002, and we’re now on prog 1767. That’s 494 issues, thirty-two pages each, which comes to 15,808 pages. And he’s been editor of the Judge Dredd Megazine since issue 241. Seventy-nine issues comes to 5,056 pages. A grand total of 20,864 pages, and that’s not even counting the graphic novels and the reprint freebies that come with every issue of the Megazine. And the quality just keeps rising… So how does he do it? I honestly have no idea – maybe Tharg is real after all!
Working with him is interesting. I’ve worked with a lot of book editors, so it’s quite a change to work with Matt on 2000AD. Book editors have a lot more time to hold the writer’s hand and listen to his whinging. Matt doesn’t give a huge amount of feedback: he’s not there to be the creators’ best pal and say nice things to keep them happy. If he thinks something won’t work, he’ll say that without mollycoddling: “Thanks, but I don’t think it works.” Simple as that. Occasionally he’ll expand on that a little if he sees potential in a story, or he’ll deftly pick a story apart and single out the non-working bits.
That’s as it should be, really, especially for Dredd. The other regular stories in 2000AD appear for an eight- or ten-week run and then disappear for a year, but Dredd is in there every week. There’s not a lot of time for Matt to sit down with the writer for a nice long casual chat about where the story is going, and what its underlying themes might be.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about the process of putting together a Judge Dredd story? Would you have a page of script, a pencil, some inter-creator conversation and a final page?
A. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s not a lot of inter-creator conversation when it comes to Dredd! Sometimes I don’t even know who the artist will be until the strip is published (I could ask Matt, but I quite like not knowing!). I’ve been very lucky with the artists assigned to my Dredd strips: John Higgins, Bryan Talbot and his son Alwyn, Simon Fraser, Ben Willsher, Jon Davis-Hunt, David Roach and Nick Dyer. Every one of them has brought my scripts to life in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.
But, no, I don’t get to see pencilled pages to which I can provide feedback, or any of those luxuries some writers take for granted! That said, I have at times been contacted by artists asking, “Would you have a problem if I did that panel this way?” I’ll pretty much always say, “Whatever you think is best, you do that,” because my job is not to be a dictator, stamping around and imposing my will: my job is to tell the story to the artist, colourist and letterer. Their job is to tell the story to the reader. If they – or the editor – can find a better way to get the story across, I’m happy with that. The story is the important thing, not the writer’s ego!
Generally, it works like this: I’ll send Matt a synopsis, usually about a page and a half for a one-off tale, appropriately longer for a multi-parter. He’ll get back to me within a day or two with a straight “Go for it” or “Thanks, but it’s been done.” (Or, sometimes, “It’s not strong enough.”) Occasionally he’ll suggest a different ending or a different approach. I’ll bounce my own ideas back, and when I get the go-ahead I begin scripting.
The scripting process is pretty straightforward to begin with: I break down the story into the required number of pages (usually no more than a paragraph or two per page), then I break each page into a number of panels (a line or two per panel). When I’m happy with that, it become my roadmap for the script. Then it’s just a matter of describing what I want to see in each panel and adding the dialogue or captions.
This is where everything gets tricky, because the roadmap is only a serving suggestion: with every comic script I’ve written – without exception – I get about a third of the way through and realise that I don’t have enough space in which to tell the whole story. Then a page or two later, I start thinking that I don’t have enough story to fill out the rest of the space… I go back and forth like this a few times, especially for the longer stories, but somehow it all works out in the end.
It’s said that comic scripts are akin to screenplays, and on the surface that’s true, but the pacing is very, very different. For example, I know that a six-page Dredd tale will begin on the right-hand page, which means that the last page will be on the left-hand side. So, ideally, the last panels on pages one, three and five should be intriguing enough to encourage the reader to turn the page. Likewise, any shock revelations or twists should be on pages two, four or six, so that the reader doesn’t glance at them accidentally when reading the preceding page. The story doesn’t always allow that to happen, but it’s something I strive for.
Once the first pass of the script is done, I read through it and check that there’s nothing missing or off-kilter. The first speaker in each panel – if there’s more than one – should be on the left, otherwise their balloons will cross and that’s never good. There are unofficial guidelines for the layout: Seven panels per page at most, not more than three dialogue balloons or captions per panel, not more than twenty-five words per balloon. Of course, we’ve all broken these guidelines, but they’re a good goal: keep it tight, keep it punchy. The panel count is especially important: you need to give the artist enough room to play! Also, characters should be named in the captions or dialogue, otherwise the readers might not know who they are. Sure, most of the Judges have their names on their shields, but other characters should be named because even if they appear regularly, each artist will draw them differently (and even with the Judges, their shields might not be visible in every panel).
When I feel the script is ready, I’ll e-mail it to Matt. Usually he’ll be happy with it as it is, but sometimes he’ll ask for minor changes (major changes are unlikely at this stage, because they’ll have been caught in the synopsis stage).
And that’s usually that… I don’t see it again until the issue comes out.
My Dredd story “Downtime” (2000AD prog 1752) was a different matter. Matt contacted me out of the blue, saying that he needed a single-part six-page tale that would appear in the middle of “Day of Chaos”. That was a pretty fast turn-around: I had the story done the next day, and it appeared in the comic four weeks later – before we’d even signed the contracts! To be honest, I wasn’t expecting positive feedback from the readers for that one, because there’s not a lot that happens in it, plus it interrupts “Day of Chaos” which is absolutely packed with action and intrigue. So I was more than a little surprised when the reviews came in and for the most part they were very positive (apart from one fan who really took exception to the episode being written by someone other than John Wagner – can’t please everyone, I guess!).
Q. Insurrection, Low Life other non-Dredd stories set in the Dredd Universe are not exactly new. We’ve had Banzai Battalion and America, but do you think this is the way to expand in the stories that can be told in the Dredd Universe?
A. Absolutely! The Dredd universe is a wonderful playground, with Dredd himself only a small part of it in many ways. I like to think of Dredd as the ultimate catalyst: because he’s there, the world changes, but he himself rarely changes.
I love what some of the other writers have done: Insurrection is a masterpiece, Samizdat Squad is incredibly good fun (and very high on the “wish I’d thought of that” list), as are The Simping Detective, Low Life (gotta love Dirty Frank!) and Armitage. Not even counting all the one-off Tales of the Black Museum stories, there’s been dozens of Dredd-world stories over the years, and most – if not all – have added to the richness of the universe (okay, so there’s been one or two duds, and a fair few tales that contradict each other, but that’s all part of the fun).
See, as I see it Mega-City One is just as much a star of Dredd’s world as Dredd is. Sure, it’s all a little vague as to exactly how big the city is, and no one seems to wonder why a city that covers at least half a million square miles and has a population of only four hundred million is supposed to be so crowded (that’s about 800 people per square mile: by comparison, New Jersey currently has a population density of 1,189), but the city is the key to the stories. Or, rather, the people of the city are the key.
The citizens have an intriguing combination of boredom, mild insanity and inventiveness that seems to be boundless… Where else would you find a citizen whose hobby is heading eggs into a bucket, or that woman who made her money as a biller (she sends out bills to large companies… The bills are for her billing service)?
Q. Where do you see Dredd going to next?
A. Hmm… Story-wise, I have lots of ideas of my own, but I’ll keep them to myself for now! I don’t know what’s coming up in Dredd’s world. I do get vague hints from Matt occasionally, but in general I’d rather not know because I’m still a fan: I don’t want any spoilers, thanks!
There are many fans who seem to think that ol’ Joe Dredd is going to quit soon, because he’s now in his late sixties (Dredd ages in real-time), but they should remember that he lives in a world of rejuvenation treatments, artificial organs and bones, advanced technology… If he does get too old for the streets he could get the Justice Department scientists to clone him a new body, then have one of the Psi Judges transfer his mind into it. I don’t see Dredd retiring any time soon!
My approach to Dredd: Personally, I tend not to think of him as being too famous within his own universe. Sure, he’s saved the world a whole bunch of times, but it seems to me that the average citizen wouldn’t necessarily know his name. Some would be aware of him, but certainly not everyone. I mean, who’s the most famous on-the-street police officer in America right now? Not a clue. (Well, apart from that guy who casually pepper-sprayed those already-surrendered-and-sitting-down protestors!)
Likewise, the whole mystery of Dredd’s face is a non-starter for me. It doesn’t matter what he looks like under the helmet. Just because we never see him without his helmet doesn’t mean that no-one else does. He’s not keeping his face a secret… because, for the readers and for the purposes of the story, Dredd’s helmet is his face. It’s a brilliant conceit in so many ways. He’s not Batman or Spider-Man who needs to keep his real identity a secret: Dredd doesn’t have another identity. He’s Judge Dredd, all the time.
Which neatly brings me to the whole superhero aspect. Some of the early stories treated Dredd as a one-dimensional fascist unstoppable inhuman killing machine. I can’t see him like that at all… For me, Dredd is a policeman, a soldier. Highly trained, very good at his job, very smart and with a great knack for sussing out people, but he’s still just a man and that makes him all the more interesting. Occasionally – but not often – he will make a mistake, or lose his temper.
Is he a fascist? Yes, in that he sometimes puts the desires of the state before the needs of individual people, but at the same time Dredd understands that the state is the people. I’ve tried to include both of these aspects in my own Dredd tales. “Caterpillars” shows Dredd rather coldly carrying out his duties with little regard to the desires of the story’s protagonist, while “Downtime” shows him addressing a group of would-be cadets. They’re only five years old, but he doesn’t talk down to them. He’s honest about the life of a Judge, explains why Judges are necessary. He understands and sympathises with the sacrifice they’re being asked to make.
Dredd’s not one-dimensional, and certainly not inhuman… In a world riddled with madness and crime, he’s probably the most human character of all.
Michael Carroll started with 2000AD and The Judge Dredd Megazine in the traditional way, with a couple of Future Shocks, and was soon asked to submit one-off stories Tales from Black Museum, the success of which led very quickly to his being invited to pitch ideas for Judge Dredd. In the last twelve months he has had some thirteen Dredd episodes published, with his “Caterpillars” and “Downtime” stories achieving huge popularity. (and you can vote for them, in The Eagle awards here: http://www.eagleawards.co.uk/ Ed.)
He has had considerable success with his Quantum Prophecy series of books for young adult readers, being published in both the UK and US, with the next book, Stronger, due out this June. Last year saw the publication of his adult novel Double-Crossing, the first in a series of novels inspired by the characters and situations in John Higgins’ acclaimed Razorjack graphic novel. Michael lives and works in Dublin.
We would like to thank Michael for his Insight on all things 2000AD!