Interviews - John Wagner
Interviewed by W.R. Logan of the Class of '79
It is with some sense of fear mixed with
excitement that I begin this interview with one of Britain's best
writers, someone that since 1977 has written the majority of Judge
Dredd stories. He has been known by many names John
Howard, T. B. Grover, Ron Clark, Rick Clark, F. Martin Candor,
but most readers will know him by his most well known and real
title, John Wagner.
Firstly John for those readers who only
know your work in 2000AD or in The Judge Dredd
Megazine could you give us a brief rundown of some of the
comics and stories youve worked on over the years?
My first comic, if you can call it that, was Romeo, a
mixture of feature and romantic strip for teenage girls, on which
I was a young and callow Chief Sub Editor. Also on Romeo
at that time was Pat Mills. With him I began my freelance career,
working from his garden shed in Fife. We turned out one-page
funnies for IPC juvenile comics (Cor!, Whizzer &
Chips etc), and some girls comic stories.
From there to IPC in London, where I edited two comics for
girls, Sandie and Princess
Tina. Under my skilful stewardship both of them soon shut
down, or rather, were merged into other comics (Sandie,
interestingly, at a circulation of around 180,000 - what we
wouldnt give for that now). I began to look on myself as a
bit of an undertaker; when I moved in a comic was surely doomed.
Youll notice, no boys material up till then, but I
must have shown some interest because the publisher asked me to
write a report on why IPC boys comics were losing out
against DC Thomson, their main competitor. Its a fine
example of corporate thinking - you want to know why one half of
your business is doing badly, ask the guy whos busy
destroying the other half. Well, I suppose there was more to it
After a break of a year and a bit while I attempted to give up
working, I heard from IPC again. They sent me a telegram, in
fact. Remember those? Theyd asked Pat to originate a new
WWII comic, a rival to DC Thomsons Warlord. Did I
want to come down to London and join him? Ill say. In my
year and a bit, Id discovered that having no money sucks
bigtime. That was Battle Picture Weekly, for which Pat and
I created most if not all the first run stories and a lot of what
came after. Then for me a spell editing Valiant (buried
that too) before leaving, no doubt with IPCs heartfelt
gratitude, to become freelance again. That was in 1975 or 76.
Im still at it.
Over the years Ive created quite a few comic stories and
written a lot of others, from Batman to Xena,
Warrior Princess. Ill spare you the full list.
Creations Im fondest of? As a character, Dredd - Id
have to say Dredd, wouldnt I? Not forgetting Robohunter,
Strontium Dog, Button Man, Al Bestardi - and with
oft-time writing partner Alan Grant The Bogie Man and Bob
the Galactic Bum. Oh, yes, and Shit the Dog.
You spent your first 13 years living in
America before moving to Scotland, has it played a major part in
the way in which you write, especially Dredd and is it the
reason that you have destroyed so much of America in your Dredd
I suppose it must have played a part in the way I write,
imparting a peculiar mid-Atlantic slant. In the
context of British comics, my approach to a subject might
sometimes have seemed interestingly different. Others have
pointed out to me (though Ive never accepted it!) how
strongly Dredds character is rooted on my own. That
probably comes from my early years in America and dear old dad,
who didnt take any prisoners and steadfastly refused to be
reasonable about anything. Destruction, well, I was always a
nasty little bugger.
When you first got into comics I can't imagine that there was
the fan following that creators today have to put up with, what
was your motive for becoming a comic book writer and how did you
get your first break? Did you ever intend to have a scriptwriting
When I left school writing of any sort was the last thing on
my mind. There wasnt a lot going on in my mind at all. I
had some nowhere job with a printing company, day release to
college in Glasgow, you know the sort of thing. I knew I
wasnt going to stay there but I was in no hurry to do
anything about it. It was my aunt who showed me the advert - DC
Thomson in Dundee was looking for editorial assistants. Thinking
back on it, all those years ago now, it sounded pretty damned
interesting. And it was. Thomsons was a fascinating place
to work and a terrific training ground. You had to have a fair
grasp of the language but mostly they liked their employees to
have a lot of common sense. You knew from the start you had six
months to prove you were worth keeping or you were out, but they
gave you a chance too. There was work to be done, so get on with
it - and see you do it right, laddie!
Even when Id risen to the precarious height of chief sub
on Romeo, the idea of a career in writing, as opposed to
editing, had still not entered my head. Pat Mills, on the other
hand, had a genuine desire to be a writer. He tried his hand at
scripting a few stories for Romeo. Their quality surprised me -
as good as or better than the stuff we were buying from the usual
freelancers. I wasnt sure if I could do it - despite being
in the business Id never envisaged myself as a writer - but
Pat was patently capable. Maybe I could do it too. By now I was
looking for a way out of DCT, principally a money thing. Pat and
I talked it over on a number of occasions and at last made plans
to leave and go freelance together.
To make an impression on a prospective editor we had to do
something special. Pats idea - a good one as it turned out
- was to pick a comic and script every story in it. The one we
chose was Cor!. Twenty-three stories, mostly one-page
funnies. I can just imagine Bob Paynters amazement when he
opened that envelope. He bought twelve of them. Not a bad start.
We were off and running.
To be honest, though, for most of our time together I felt
that Pat was the writer and I was the guy pretending to be one.
Until we split up and I was forced to do it on my own I was never
sure whether I was really up to it.
In the 70's you shared a flat with Steve
MacManus, was this in any way character forming and remembering
that the Megazine has lost its 'Not For Sale To Children'
tag, do you have a story you can tell us about those days?
I met Steve when he came to Battle Picture Weekly as our young
editorial assistant. By the time we shared the flat hed
graduated to being Action Man in Action - you know, the
poor sap who had to spend a day eating fire or being walked on by
elephants or swimming the London sewers. There isnt much of
note to tell you about our flat-sharing experience. It was a dire
little flat on Camberwell New Road that shook and rattled all day
and half the night with the weight of traffic rumbling by
outside. I hated it, preferring to spend my time in the pub
across the street. Our time together - or rather, Camberwell -
stirred in me a desire to get out of London forever, which
Im glad to say I did.
Out of all of the characters and comics
that you worked on before 2000AD is there any character or
comic that you would like to see revived and could you make them
work in today's market place?
Frankly, no. To both questions. Cant think of a comic
Id like to see back, cant see how I could make
anything work in todays market place. Well, yes, I think
maybe I could make a football comic work. Its a different
audience to the one reading this, but there are enough of them
out there. The problem is the investment needed. If you
dont have plenty of cash to start with, youre only
going to lose.
Are there any stories/characters which
you have actively hated writing and why?
Oh, god, so many. You dont, of course, know youre
going to hate them till youve committed yourself. Sometimes
even on a good character you can find yourself stuck in the wrong
plot with no chance of scrapping it and starting again. In that
case youve just got to press on and try to make a decent
job of it. Often, if the characters good enough,
inspiration strikes and you end up turning it into something you
can be pleased with. But some characters are a pain from the word
go. I call them who cares stories. Every picture you
write, ever scene you try to force yourself to dream up,
youre asking yourself why am I DOING this? Stories
like Aliens and Predator, for instance. Both are
one-joke stories. They have one controlling idea and
when thats been written you can only repeat yourself. The
most recent story I found myself regretting was Xena. It
wasnt actually a one-joker, so I thought it would be fun.
As such things go the TV series is quite good - a lot of
tongue-in-cheek humour, doesnt take itself too seriously.
But for some reason, I hated doing it. I was glad, when the
opportunity arose, to give it up.
Before the invention of the information
super highway was it an exciting time working on titles like Action
and 2000AD in the 70's, or is our notion that you all sat
round talking and creating the stories just a fanboys dream of
how things really happened? Did you spend time with other
creators in those days or was everything done by telephone and
No, its not your imagination. Its pretty much how
things used to happen. Some of us used to spend a lot of time
together. Wed throw stories around all the time, putting in
many diligent pub hours. 2000AD ran creators evenings,
which were pretty well attended. Id still turn up for them
if I didnt live in Shropshire.
You have worked on 2000AD since
its inception and seen a number of Editorial droid's come and go.
Who in your opinion has been 2000AD's or the Megazine's
best editor, and why?
Its a bit pointless talking about the Megazine - there
has only been David Bishop until fairly recently. Hes done
a good job under often difficult conditions. I wish Id kept
my own involvement on a higher level, but its hard when
youre not actually there on the scene. You tend to become
more of an impediment than a help.
Following on from the previous question,
who do you feel was 2000AD's or the Megazine's
Im not going to get into slagging people off, so you can
make up your own minds who was 2000ADs worst. Its best was
undoubtedly Pat. The decline, if you accept that there has been
one, started when he left. He dreamed it up, he knew it like
nobody else. Thats not to say the comic didnt have
good, even great periods after he was gone, maybe better than
anything that happened while he was there, but for me it lost
something without Pat. He was a tireless worker, imbued with
good, solid DC Thomson principles - keep shuffling the stories
round, keep the new ideas flowing, dont be satisfied with
second best. Always look for the next thrill, dont sit on
your success. He would never have allowed the long fallow middle
period when there never seemed to be anything new, only old
characters recycled. That was anathema to us, reminiscent of
characters like Captain Hurricane and Billy Bunter and Adam
Eterno and countless others whose stagnant and formulaic stories
had been killing off IPCs comics for years.
Apart from 2000AD or the Megazine,
who have been the best & worst editors or creators you have
Ive only worked closely with two other writers, Pat
Mills and Alan Grant, both of whom I have a lot of respect for.
You have to or things will never work out. I tried to work with
Garth Ennis a few years back, another writer I rate highly, but
he was just too young and keen and full of ideas. He made me feel
exhausted before we got started, so I backed out. It reminded me
too much of the early days. I didnt feel I had that kind of
energy anymore. My partnership with Alan lasted a long time and
to a certain extent we still work together. You cant do
that unless youre fairly compatible and think along similar
lines. Some of the best things I wrote were with him, including
my favourite character of all, Francis Forbes Clunie, the Bogie
Man, who Robbie Coltrane so notably copped out on in the BBC 2
production. Oui, Robbie, jaccuse!
Editors, hmmm. Some of the old time IPC editors were not what
Id consider good. Nice enough people but their comics
showed a deep lack of interest or energy or talent or all of
those. What did it matter, the comics would sell whatever was in
them - and if the figures got too low just start up another comic
and merge the two. Cant get away with that these days.
David Bishop and Andy Diggle have to be thinking on their feet
all the time.
In the States, as a broad generalisation, Ive found DC
editors good to work with and Marvel editors not so good. One
notable exception is Archie Goodwin, the most decent person I
ever met in comics - but he moved to DC anyway, which was more of
a natural home. Apart from Archie, Ive especially enjoyed
working with Ryder Windham at Dark Horse and Andy Helfer at DC.
Ryders gone freelance himself now. Andy was a real pain in
the butt on our first project together, Outcasts (with
Alan and Cam) but a rock on A History of Violence -
patient, encouraging, supportive, creatively very helpful, and
most important, unwilling to let me get away with second best.
And only Andy would have dreamed of giving me The Big Book of
Martyrs to do.
When you created Dredd what were
your instructions to Carlos Ezquerra?
As far as I can remember, pretty sketchy. I think I sent him
the newspaper advert for Death Race 2000 with a picture of
a grim bike rider in leathers and helmet and the instructions
something like this. I must have mentioned
Dredds armament too, but I wouldnt have gone into it
in great depth. If youve seen my scripts, youll know
I dont use fifty words when I can get away with one.
Thats partly laziness and partly that, working with
imaginative people like Carlos, I prefer to leave a lot of room
for their own input. Some writers like to nail an artist down and
seem to get good results, but its not my way.
What did you think when you saw those
Way over the top. Id pictured a plainer, more austere
look. Here was this ornate character like something out of the
Spanish conquests. Ridiculous, it would never work. Shows you how
much I know - another good argument for leaving a lot of the
thinking to your artist.
If you could go back to 1976, would you
in any way change your description of Dredd?
I might fill it out a bit now that I know what he looks like!
Seriously, if theres one thing I would change it would be
Dredds gun. Ive always thought it a bit unexciting.
The shape has recently been revamped, but Id like to see
him with something more like a very short-barrelled shotgun, a
kind of one-handed gattling blaster.
Your once again working with Carlos
Ezquerra on another character you both created, Johnny Alpha
Strontium Dog. The original Johnny Alpha will be appearing
in the Megazine soon when 'Journey Into Hell', which
originally saw print in 2000AD Prog 104 118
(17/03/79 23/06/79) is reprinted. Also recently started in
2000AD is your new take on Strontium Dog. What is the main
difference between the two versions of Johnny and is the new
version a way of making the Strontium Dog characters and stories
your own once again?
In terms of personality, theres no difference. Johnny is
still the same guy. His mutant powers may seem to have altered a
little, but look on that as not so much a revision as a change of
emphasis - a grimmer, darker take on what was always there
anyway. Had I gone the way I originally intended the changes
would have been more drastic, including the writing out of Wulf.
Andy Diggle appealed to me to reconsider, as I would be in danger
of upsetting a lot of staunch Stront fans (including him). He was
quite right - Id miss old Wulf if I knew he was never going
to appear again. Id probably have to stage another miracle
resurrection to bring him back. So really all thats changed
is the chronology and some of the background of Johnnys
world. The Kreeler Conspiracy takes place before Wulf came
on the scene and well probably have Wulf back for the
second series, assuming David Bishop wants one.
As far as making Stront my own again, Ive never felt it
was anything else. Ive not read a Strontium Dog or related
story since Johnnys death and dont feel bound by
anything thats happened since that point. However, as the
stories Ill be doing will be taking place during
Johnnys lifetime - never-before-told adventures - I
wont be going out of my way to contradict anything anyone
else has done.
Alan Grant took over as regular script
droid on Strontium Dog with 'Death's Head' in 2000AD Prog
178. Why did you give up writing Strontium Dog? (Or was this one
of the times during your writing partnership that the person who
typed the story got the credit for it?)
We were still writing them together, though they appeared
under Alans name. In the same way the Dredd's appeared
under my name but we actually co-wrote almost all of them during
that time. As you say, whoever did the typing got the cash. We
had a red book in which we balanced it all up. It
makes an interesting read, a real trip down memory lane.
Carlos Ezquerra never accepted Johnny's
death as part of Strontium Dog continuity, How did you feel about
him being killed off?
I cant remember if I co-wrote Johnnys last story;
I think Alan may have done that one on his own. I could check the
red book, I suppose - no matter, I must have agreed to it
happening. Do I regret it? I dont know, maybe a little, but
nobody lives forever. Johnny had to die sometime. It doesnt
stop me telling new Strontium Dog stories. Is it only the
possibility that the hero might die that makes a story worth
reading? Does knowing when and how Johnny will die take away the
pleasure of stories that happened earlier in his life? Surely
not. You know for a fact when you read a Dredd that he is not
going to die, but that doesnt spoil it for you.
Following on from the previous question,
why did you bring him back?
It was when doing the TV bible that the urge came on me. I
figured if Showtime didnt want to use the story Id
worked out then Id like to do it as a comic strip. After
all these years it would be nice to revisit Johnny. I felt I had
a better understanding of him now and it would give me a chance
to correct the things I always considered werent quite
right about the story. The computer archivist device I added
afterwards. It allows me to make alterations without destroying
the things I want to keep, which is pretty much most of the
Is it true your TV bible will not be
Thats what Im told.
Do you think Johnny will ever make it to
the small screen?
Your guess is as good as mine. Mine is no.
Have you ever been involved more
directly in trying to bring any of your creations to the small or
No, mores the pity. TV and movie people dont
generally want to know you once theyve got the rights to do
your story. Theyre incredibly arrogant - youre just a
comic writer, a lower form of life. And then look what they go
and do with a property. A perfect case in point is The Bogie
Man. It showed just after Christmas (92, I think), opposite Gorillas
in the Mist, so it went pretty well unnoticed. I used to have
it on video but I accidentally wiped it - and I didnt care.
Robbie Coltrane in the lead, a BBC 2 production, youd think
it would be good. It was muddled crap. To start with they got a
script writer to adapt it who seemed intent on trying to
resurrect a faded career by imposing himself all over our story
(mine and Alans, art by Robin Smith). When hed
finished the story no longer made any sense. Just before filming
was to start (Im told) the director informed him that it
wasnt funny anymore either. Could he make it funny again?
So he went back over it and stuck much of our humour back in -
unfortunately, in the wrong places. Then we come to Robbie. Now I
used to like the guy. Hes got a lot of presence, hes
a good actor, and I understand now that playing Bogart is one of
his big fantasies. So why oh why didnt he play the part
properly? He did it tongue-in-cheek, as if Bogie realises
hes a loon, which is very much not the case. Bogie believes
in himself one hundred percent and then some. The result was the
whole production didnt work and didnt do Bogie
Are you interested in seeing your
characters used in other media or are you not really bothered?
Sure, Im interested. For the money, for one thing
(though by the time Fat Man Presss bank had swallowed up
most of the money BBC paid for Bogie - a pittance to begin with -
Alan and I made something like Â£175 each out of the TV
production). Then theres the ego trip - who doesnt
want to see their creations brought to a wider public? Id
just like to see it done right occasionally. Thats hard to
ensure unless you can exercise control, which is difficult to
achieve. Usually its our way or no way. Look at
the Dredd movie - Carlos and I had no bargaining power, we
couldnt even negotiate a credit with the opening titles.
Where did our names appear? Did anyone ever stay with the credits
long enough to see them? Or like the BBC producer said to us when
we asked for more money for Bogie: "If you were Jeffrey
Archer Id say how much do you want, Jeffrey?
But youre not, and Im telling you were paying
Â£4000." By the time Kitchen Sink had negotiated a deal for Button
Man I was a little wiser; Arthur (Ranson) and I took the
contract to a lawyer in New York, who made sure our rights were
protected. He also took more of the option fee than either of us,
but that was okay, if theyd made the movie wed have
done much better out of it.
Whilst were talking
your thoughts on the Dredd movie?
I wish theyd done a better job of it. But lets get
one thing straight, there would never have been a movie if it
hadnt been for Stallone. Pressman had had the rights for
several years before that, hed have gone on prevaricating
if Stallone hadnt agreed to do it, so Im not going to
No, the real problem was that they were making the wrong
movie. Dredd was never meant to be a dynastic power struggle.
Dredd is down on the streets breaking heads and being a bastard.
More than that hes the city and the people of Mega-city
One. Stallone was badly advised, thats all. Maybe I could
have done more about it; maybe when I talked to him I should have
been more forthright about it, but by then I figured it was all a
lost cause. When I went up to Shepperton the first thing I told
Danny Cannon was that he was filming the wrong script, but I
could see he didnt want to know. Theyd already
invested too much in the silly story they had. And anyway, what
did I know, I was only a comic writer? I thought the computer FX
were really groovy though.
Alan Grant was for a number of years
your writing partner, how did that partnership begin and was it a
hard decision to stop working together at the end of the 'Oz'
It began shortly after Alan quit 2000AD editorial. I was
feeling at a creative low and the job hed been promised had
suddenly dematerialised. It seemed a good idea to team up. It
worked pretty well right from the start. Wed known each
other since DC Thomson, we were sharing an old farmhouse in Essex
(what I modelled Harrys place on), we had the same sort of
Splitting up, after all the years wed worked together,
was hard but necessary. We were beginning to spend hours arguing
over the slightest point. You can tell a story a million ways, no
one way is necessarily better than any other, and sometimes
having two minds working on something can be a positive
disadvantage. My memory of it is that Oz didnt split
us up, though we had some problems on that, it was The Last
American. Ridiculously trivial disagreements. It was just
time, I guess. We still worked together after that for a good
while, on special projects in the evenings after our normal
days work, but these days we live too far apart to do much
together, which is a pity. We used to have a good laugh,
especially on stuff like - well, most of it.
Alan Grant and yourself are credited in
the Megazine as being 'consultant editors', what exactly
does that involve?
Not a lot these days. In the beginning I was working
practically full time on the Megazine to get it up and running. I
remained fairly closely involved for a good while after the
launch, but gradually began to take a back seat. David Bishop was
making a pretty good fist of editing it and I genuinely wanted to
encourage different viewpoints from other writers, which would
never happen as long as I had too big a role in vetting the
content. Recently our input - mine and Alans - has been
fairly minimal. With half the Megazine reprint there hasnt
been a lot to talk about. Andy Diggle has some excellent ideas
for it though and hes been putting a lot of effort into
bringing it back to nearer what it was. With the recent changes
hes made weve been consulting a bit more.
At the moment the first issue with Journey into Hell is
about two weeks off and I must admit Im champing at the bit
to get my copy.
Dredd has been tried on the
American market a couple of times, why do you think that he has
failed to make any real impact in America?
Alans theory, and theres probably a lot in it, is
that America is already a Dreddian world, theres nothing
new or startling in the story for them, its happening every
day over there. Weve always derived a lot of our Dredd
ideas from what actually goes on in America. Another factor might
be the cheapskate way Dredd was first introduced to the States.
That didnt do the strips reputation any good,
thats for sure.
You have been writing comics for nigh on
30 years now, which is longer than the present editor of the Judge
Dredd Megazine has been alive, do you ever get the urge to
pat him on the head and call him sonny?
What, and get my rates cut? Gimme a break.
Invariably over the years Dredd
has killed most of the villains that he has ever faced, have you
ever regretted killing off any of Dredd's villainous
supporting cast? For example in 2000AD Prog 958 'Awakening
Of Angels' you resurrected Pa & Junior Angel, was that your
idea and what was the reasoning behind it?
Sure, loads. The Angel Gangs a very good case in point,
we never should have offed them. We got away with resurrecting
Mean Machine, I think. He was just too good a character to throw
away, and somehow he suited miracle rebirth, but I confess in
hindsight Pa and Junior were a step too far. I dont think
Ill be using them again. These days Im a lot more
careful about who I kill off. You have to remember that when I
moved over to IPC boys comics one of the many things that
was wrong with them was that characters never died. Stories
rolled on and on year after year with the same cast and largely
the same plot. I was determined to change things. Maybe I went
over the score with it but the bodycount was one of the aspects
that made Dredd stand out.
Are there any parts of Dredd's
continuity or stories that you wish had never been written,
either by yourself or by any other writers?
Once again, lots and lots. Too much to do any sort of full
list. There was the city extending as far south as Florida, for
instance - Alan and I wrote the Apocalypse War to shrink
it again. This was the brainchild of other writers, but I am far
from blameless. Vienna, Dredds impossible niece, is one
good example. I dont let myself get too hung up on
continuity, though - just accept that there are inconsistencies
and contradictions and try to avoid creating any more.
With every passing year another year
goes by in Mega-City One, Dredd's stories started in 2099 and are
presently set in 2122. Are you going to start grooming a new
clone Judge Dredd (as per Kraken, but more successful), before
Dredd has to start taking Stookie, the anti-ageing drug? How do
you see the problem of Dredd's increasing age being solved?
Aha! Keep reading your Progs and you may get a glimmer!
Dredd, is by most standards a
really nasty piece of work, he leads a near monastic existence,
emotionally completely isolated and his only emotional release is
from catching perps. Obviously for the character to work you must
have some kind of sympathy for him, to understand how he thinks,
but at the same time manage to keep him at the proper distance so
we can understand what he is and what he means. How do you manage
to juggle this in your own head?
Ill ask the questions, creep! No, I dont agree
hes a really nasty piece of work. Lets say hes
a fairly nasty piece of work. He has redeeming qualities
too. I mean, if you were in a sticky spot theres no one
youd rather have on your side than old Joe - even if you
did have to do a couple of years for your trouble. But its
not so hard to understand him. Theres Dredd in all of us -
good and bad. Which of us hasnt felt the punitive urge, the
desire to see someone get their comeuppance? Youre driving
along, say, and someone cuts you up, and you think - boy,
wouldnt mind seeing Dredd come along, pull that asshole
over and smash his face. And you genuinely - genuinely - would
love it to happen. Or am I just a bit twisted?
So no, I dont have any problems understanding Dredd, and
you dont either or you wouldnt be reading him.
It took me years to get my wife to read
my weekly dose of Thrill Power and she started to enjoy Dredd,
especially when her favourite character 'Walter The Wobot'
appeared. Then over a period of years you had Walter destroyed,
rebuilt, humiliated, rejected and then imprisoned. Walter has
recently made his return to the Dredd strip and is now
working for Mrs Gunderson. Will we see more of Walter in the
future and is he destined to forever have his affections spurned?
Youll probably see more of him. Im sure Ill
return to Mrs Gunderson, though Im afraid Dredd and Walter
will never be reconciled. Even if he wasnt so irritatingly
obsequious, there would be no place for him in Dredds life
the way it is now.
In the introduction you wrote for your
Paradox Press graphic novel 'A History Of Violence' you
wrote, "I've been writing comic strips for twenty-five years
now, but I still can't force my brain (not willingly at least)
round super-heroes. Something missing in my upbringing,
perhaps." Why do you find super-heroes so hard to write?
Because I dont believe in them. You can suspend your
disbelief only so far, and Im not willing to travel those
extra steps to come to terms with superheroes. An isolated
superpower, maybe, but not a whole genre devoted to it. Many
wont agree with me, considering the industry grew big
because of them, but I think theyve been the ruination of
Judge Dredd is REAL?
Some elements in Dredd can be just as absurd as Superman, say,
but with a superhero the whole story is built round their power.
Thats a big bite to swallow right from the start. And
superheroes as a breed take themselves so damned seriously.
Theres a big dollop of black humour in Dredd, as well as a
near-real, sinister edge that makes it, to me, more credible and
more relevant. The main factor is believability. Do I believe in
this? More to the point, do I want to believe in it? For
me the same principle applies to other stories, not just
superhero material. Red Razors, for instance, might have
been the best story ever written, I dont know; I just
couldnt accept a whole culture based round the worship of
Elvis - not one the size of Russia anyway. So the story never had
any chance of working for me.
In recent years, you have worked on such
titles as 'Star Wars: Boba Fett, Jabba The Hutt & Shadows Of
The Empire' & 'Xena: Warrior Princess' to name but a few.
Which of your projects outside of 2000AD or the Megazine
have you enjoyed and which if any have you found a chore to
In general I prefer to write stories Ive created. That
way I make the rules and I dont have to adhere to someone
elses gameplan. Also, I dont get tangled up in
continuity problems. There havent been many I didnt
create that I enjoyed writing. Star Wars was okay, Boba
Fett I enjoyed a lot, but hes a pretty similar
character to Dredd. Batman was good too - and before you
say it, I dont consider him a superhero, just a tough guy.
Do you have any say in the artists that
work on your scripts and if so what in particular do you look
for? Do you have any favourite artists and what makes them
I have some say, but Dredd, because he doesnt belong to
one artist in particular, seems to get whoever is available,
whoever can draw the story in the required time - often short.
This has frequently worked to the storys detriment.
Dredds had some right ropey artwork in his time. Why, for
instance, give Dredd to an artist like Kim Raymond, who was so
obviously unsuited? Thats just one example, there have been
many. And the wrong artwork can destroy a story.
What do I look for? First and foremost, good storytelling. You
can be a wonderful artist and if you dont care about
bringing a story over properly to the readers, if youre
just interested in showing off your great talent, then Id
just as soon have a monkey drawing my story. After that, mood. I
want an artist who can capture the atmosphere I want to convey.
Thats why I like working with people like Carlos and Cam.
They are both great storytellers. I know I dont have to
worry about the flow of a story with them - theyll do it
right. Theyll bring over the mood thats required,
theyll draw the reader into a story, they wont
short-change you on character. So many great - really great
artists have drawn my stories. I dont want to start reeling
off names in case I miss someone out, but I feel genuinely
privileged to have worked with people like Carlos and Cam, Brian
Bolland, Mike McMahon and the others. Sometimes I look back over
old stories and Im just awed by the genius some of them
possess. Im serious, genius. You see some of the stuff that
passes for art these days, Turner Prize material, and you
cant help thinking ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Ill show you
fucking art, Tracey - Ill show you art, Damien. I had to
revisit the Uncle Ump story recently -- what beauty, what
imagination, what economy, what brilliant storytelling. That
happens a lot to me - The Midnight Surfer, Als
Baby, vintage Bolland, Steve Dillons early period,
McMahon on Dredd, Colin MacNeils America and Song
of the Surfer, Ransons Button Man, Robin
Smiths painstaking work on Bogie - I start reading
and I get lost in it, the art is just so good. Ive started
naming names; I shouldnt have. These arent the only
ones. You all know who the class acts are.
Out of all the stories you've ever
written do you have any particular favourites?
Ive already mentioned The Bogie Man. I suppose
thats particularly dear to me partly because its set
in my old stamping ground. Francis Forbes Clunie was born in the
very village where my mother now lives - in the very same house,
in fact. Spinbinnie - Bogies asylum - is based on the local
institution where so many of the good people of Greenock end
their days (I sent my sister up there with a camera). A
History of Violence is another one that means a lot to me,
though I dont suppose that many people saw it. And Button
Man. Good old Harry, as chilling a hero as you could find.
Then theres Bob the Galactic Bum and Shit the Dog
All of those have one thing in common - they belong to me, or
to me and Alan (and the respective artist, of course). Nobody
else owns them. By the way, if youre looking for copies of The
Bogie Man or Shit the Dog, they can be had from
Bad Press, phone 01848 200401 for details. Go on, treat yourself!
If youre referring to Dredd's, lots and lots of
favourites. America, for one - It Pays to be Mental
- Buggo - A Death in the Family - Letter from a
Democrat - Phantom of the Shoppera - Bury My Knee
at Wounded Heart - Midnight Surfer - I could go on. By and
large, Ive enjoyed my work.
The number of people reading comics has
been dropping for a number of years now and the comics industry
is in a seemingly irreversible nosedive how do we save it and is
it worth saving?
Sure, its worth saving, but dont ask me how to do
it. Why dont each and every one of you go out this week and
recruit a new reader, even if you have to do it at gunpoint? That
would be a start.
Have you ever looked at any of the 2000AD/Judge
Dredd websites? Do you think a time will come that our weekly
dose of Thrill Power will be through the Internet and if so what
if any are your feelings about it?
I do check out the 2000 newsgroup now and then, it helps to
give me a line on what people are thinking and what theyre
looking for. Comics on the web only? It might well come,
mores the pity, but to me nothing can ever compare with the
feel of a comic in your hands.
What is your normal work process, how
does an idea turn into a story?
I wish there was a normal work process. It seems
to me I have to relearn it every time I sit down to write a new
story. How does an idea turn into a story? I guess you just keep
pushing at it hard enough and in the end somethings got to
Have any characters you have written
been based on people you know? For example, you seem to have a
fondness for Mrs Gunderson, not many of your characters survive
meeting Judge Death, in fact not many of your characters survive
life in the big Meg.
Im sure there have been many to some extent based on
people I know, but none so strongly as Mrs Gunderson, who is my
mother. I like to think of it as an affectionate portrait, though
Im glad shes never seen it. In common with most
mothers of comic writers and artists she doesnt read my
stories, apart from The Bogie Man, and thinks Ive
been very lucky to make a living out of it all these years.
If anyone reading this interview has had
counselling, survived the shock therapy and psychoanalysis and
yet still has a yearning to work in the field of comics, what
advice would you give them?
Id have to say find something with a future. Thats
a very gloomy outlook but I do feel that way about comics. Since
I started in the business Ive seen a steady and seemingly
unstoppable decline, with one large blip caused by the distortion
of the collectors market. When that bubble burst the
descent seemed to speed up. At the moment I cant see any
prospect of a resurgence.
Have you and Alan Grant ever been swept
out to sea in a rubber dingy, and if so how did it happen?
I can see youve been talking to Alan. Back in our
relative youth, it was, and we didnt quite reach the sea.
It was in the Cromarty Firth, during my year-long sabbatical.
Id taken over from Alan as caretaker of a mansion there and
figured it would be a good idea to bring a rubber dinghy with me.
There are fierce currents in the firth and when we hit them we
had but two flimsy plastic paddles. Youve never seen two
comic writers paddling so frantically to get back to shore. We
thought wed had it that day.
And finally, have you ever worn a
caftan, or had a skinhead haircut?
Youve definitely been talking to Alan. The less said
about the caftan the better. The skinhead, I quite liked that and
intend to do it again sometime. Its interesting, seeing the
top of your head and you save a helluva lot of money on shampoo.
At the time I was about 18 stone and heavy boots were my footwear
of preference. I looked a bit like Buster Bloodvessel without
Busters genial nature. People used to cross to the other
side of the street when I came along.
And with that picture stuck firmly in my
mind, all that remains is for me to thank John for his time and
La Placa Rifa,
W. R. Logan